Leader Blues

Monday, January 26, 2009

TOP STORY>>Sharpe will keep job for now

Leader senior staff writer

To Superintendent James Sharpe, it was a vote of confidence. To some Pulaski County Special School District board members, it was a rebuke of Sharpe. The board emerged from a 90-minute executive session Friday and voted unanimously to keep Sharpe for two years, but to forgo the customary one-year extension of his contract.

That means his contract will run only through June 2011, at approximately $200,000 a year, including benefits.

Sharpe’s contract has been a point of contention with the board, which has discussed and voted on whether or not to fire him several times since last fall.

The fire has gone out of that issue, for now at least, according to Bill Vasquez, the board member representing the Jacksonville area.

Sharpe has been at odds with the district’s two unions, and three board members had voted in the past to fire him, falling one vote short.

“It’s good to be wanted, to be accepted and recognized to do the job,” said Sharpe following the meeting.

He said he could continue to work with the board without problem.

Sharpe’s future, which should have been decided by early January, was still up in the air when Sharpe and his attorney, Melva Harmon, sent a letter to board members saying they would be open to negotiating a buyout of his contract.

That could have cost the district an estimated $400,000.

Board members who wanted to oust Sharpe say he acted too slowly in moving children from Clinton and Crystal Hills elementary schools, where roof trusses were found to have cracked, bowed and buckled.

The students were moved to alternative sites and the trusses were repaired over Christmas vacation with all students returning to school at the beginning of the new semester.

The school board has a long history of antipathy toward its superintendents, none of whom have left entirely of their own accord in the past several years.

Before hiring Sharpe as superintendent in February 2006, the board bought out the contract of Superintendent Don Henderson for about $200,000, and before Henderson was hired, the board bought out the contract of Gary Smith for about $450,000.

“Nobody in this community thinks you should spend $400,000 to buy out a superintendent,” said Jacksonville Middle School Boys Principal Mike Nellums.

“When we were in fiscal distress, (Sharpe) worked hard with the state Education Department to get us out. He should be commended for that, but I don’t think most taxpayers would want to buy the contract out for $400,000.”