A majority of Clarke County Board of Education members gave Superintendent Demond Means a vote of confidence last week by extending his contract for another year, on top of the 18 months still left on the current one.
The 6-1 vote came after board members met for an hour behind closed doors to evaluate Means, who has served as superintendent for a year and a half. The “no” vote came from John Knox, who said he was taken off-guard by board vice president and superintendent evaluation committee chairwoman Linda Davis’ statement that the evaluation and the contract extension were not related. “I didn’t have the information I felt I needed to vote,” Knox said.
Greg Davis, Linda Davis, Jared Bybee, Sarah Ellis, Charles Worthy and Carol Williams voted in favor of the contract extension, though Williams hesitated. Ovita Thornton left the meeting early, and Vernon Payne has been absent for months with an illness.
Bybee, the board’s president, did not give a reason why the board took the unusual step of extending Means’ contract mid-year. “We just decided to do it now,” he said.
Three new board members will take office next month: Ellis will be replaced by Kara Dyckman, Williams by LaKeisha Gantt and Thornton by Tawanna Mattox. “The existing board members have the best frame of reference to make this vote,” Bybee said.
The new contract is identical to the old one, except it expires in June 2021 rather than June 2020, and some language related to Means' relocation from Wisconsin was deleted, according to the district’s attorney, Michael Pruett. The current contract pays Means $209,000 a year plus benefits. It includes a buyout clause and requires him to pay CCSD $5,000 if he accepts another job before the contract expires.
In other business, CCSD became what is believed to be the first school district in Georgia to enact a religious tolerance policy. The policy enshrines students’ right to pray on their own and be excused for absences on religious holidays, while also participating in extracurricular activities if they wish. It also lays out guidelines for teaching about religion without proselytizing, as well as handling special dietary requests, and requires the school calendar to avoid conflicting with religious holidays if possible.
The policy passed with little discussion or fanfare—it’s hard to imagine religious tolerance being a contentious issue in Athens—but drew the attention of the Atlanta Jewish Times. According to that paper, it grew out of discussions at the Congregation Children of Israel. One synagogue member, UGA professor of bilingual education Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor, took the idea to CCSD administrators, who responded enthusiastically.
It didn’t come up at the meeting, but Means also announced Dec. 13 that the district would not spend $50,000 on a widely criticized plan to pick up the temporary building at Chase Street Elementary and rotate it 180 degrees to move the HVAC system away from neighbors who had threatened to sue over the noise. Means said in a letter to the Chase community that the ground is too soft from rain to go through with the plan, so CCSD will spend $40,000 on quieter HVAC units instead. Means also insisted that “the decision-making process was never framed to achieve the appeasement of the school’s neighbors.”