It took less than 40 minutes Saturday morning for the Wilson County Board of Education to unanimously vote to let former Director of Schools Dr. Tim Setterlund out of his contract.
Before the board voted, BOE Attorney Mike Jennings commended the five members for acting quickly and responsibility. He also said that if anyone in attendance had come “looking for a pound of flesh,” they weren’t going to find it.
The “Release and Settlement Agreement” was executed on Friday, Jan. 24, but according to its terms, Setterlund was no longer an employee of the BOE as of 5 p.m. Thursday afternoon, Jan. 23.
Under the terms of the agreement, Setterlund will receive $78,000, plus the cost of his health and major medical insurance benefits, including life insurance, up to and including June 30, 2015, which will cost approximately $7,000. Jennings said the total settlement is about $4,500 more than what he would have received if he had worked the entire first year of his three-year contract.
Essentially, according to BOE Attorney Mike Jennings, the time period for his continued insurance coverage is the same as is allowed by law for COBRA insurance coverage. However, if Setterlund secures another job prior to June 30, 2015, then the payments for his health insurance will stop.
He also has the ability, according to the agreement, “to purchase insurance for his spouse at his expense through June 30, 2015 or until he has obtained other employment, whichever shall come first.”
The agreement also states that at Setterlund’s request, he will receive the payments just as he “would have received as his regular monthly check, with the final such check to be in the amount necessary to conclude the obligation of the Board to pay $78,000 on or before June 30, 2014.”
These checks will include “all lawful deductions shall continue to be made for income tax withholding, Social Security and Medicare, and any other deductions” made while he was director.
In more than one place in the agreement, wording was used that Setterlund “releases and forever discharges” the current or future boards of education or county commissions for anything related to his employment or termination. In other words, the agreement Setterlund signed does not allow him or his heirs to sue the current or future boards of education or county commissions for anything related to his employment or termination.
While it was anticipated that the BOE would appoint an interim director during Saturday’s meeting, that was not to be.
Zone 5 Board member Larry Tomlinson spoke up and said, “I’m not comfortable taking that up at this time, “ and asked Jennings if it could be delayed a day or two.
Although Jennings told him that the system “needs a leader,” but that because the next regularly scheduled meeting for is on Monday, Feb. 3, he felt that the four deputy directors could manage the system until then.
“One thing that they might do is sit down as a body should a serious decision need to be made during that time,” Jennings said.
BOE Chair Don Weathers also noted that a work session is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 1 at 8 a.m.
Tomlinson asked Jennings if the discussions about an interim director could be held in executive session, because as he told The Wilson Post following the meeting, “There's just some things that I want to discuss that I felt is important for our school system before we put somebody in the interim position. I think it's should be discussed in an executive session.”
However, he added that while he doesn’t mind doing it in public either, “sometimes people are hesitate to say exactly what they feel if they're out in public, but it don't bother me. It doesn’t bother me if the deliberations are out in public.
“I want the best person that we can get to steer our ship. Whatever it takes to get that is what I want to see happen on an interim basis,” Tomlinson said.
Jennings told The Post that as long as the discussions concern the BOE’s policies and state law, they could be held in executive session. But any deliberations about who will fill the position must be done in public, he added.
In addition, the question arose about whether the person to be interim director could be considered for the permanent position.
Weathers told The Post that the board has the flexibility in their policy to allow that – provided that “we say in the appointment process that we are going to include them in the director's search, even though they may be the interim director. If we don't choose that in how we make the motion to appoint an interim director, then they would, by policy, be excluded.”
He also said that the time frame for hiring a new director in time for he or she to be on board July 1, when the next fiscal year begins, does not concern him, as it is similar to the time frame the board operated under when hiring Setterlund last May.
“I think we have adequate time. We just have to create a timeline and stick to that timeline. There's absolutely no reason why we can't do that,” Weathers said.
As to who will assist the board in the search for a new director, Weathers said that decision “will be at the pleasure of the board.”
Wayne Qualls of Teams Inc., who served as Commissioner of Education under former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist, assisted with the search that led to the hiring of both Setterlund and his predecessor Mike Davis. The Tennessee School Board Association also assisted with the hiring of Davis, according to Weathers.
Weathers said he “was very satisfied with Mr. Qualls. He brought us some very qualified candidates. I think he did a great job.”
When The Post asked if the board plans to change the wording in future director of schools’ contracts to prevent a similar incident involving the drinking of alcohol and driving the BOE-issued vehicle, Weathers said, “I'm sure the board will revisit the contract to include as many as those things that make sense.
To watch The Post’s video of today’s Board of Education meeting, go to http://bit.ly/1e5Bbui.
To read about the reactions of board members, as well as that of the chairs of the county commission Budget and Education committees, go to http://bit.ly/Mcef2w
Correspondent Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.