Leader Blues

Monday, March 16, 2009

TOP STORY >> PCSSD to rebuild

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

“I want to help the students of the district and rebuild the confidence from the patrons in outlying areas,” freshly minted interim Pulaski County Special School District Super-intendent Robert McGill said Friday afternoon.

McGill takes over for James Sharpe, who agreed to a $185,000 buyout at a special meeting called for that purpose Wednesday. McGill said he has met with Sharpe who is helping ease the transition.

McGill, until Wednesday principal of Pine Forest Elementary School in Maumelle, could have a steep learning curve as he takes the reins of the county school district.

“I guess I got myself in for a challenge this time,” said McGill. “When the board decided to give me a chance I wasn’t going to say no.”

McGill, 41, was principal at Pine Forest for several years, which is where he met school board president Tim Clark.

Clark, who recused himself in hiring McGill, said he was well- respected by parents and the community in Maumelle.

“He was an outstanding administrator and makes sound, logical decisions,” Clark said Friday.

McGill and his wife, Pam, have been married for 16 years, according to district spokesman Craig Douglass. They have two sons, ages 6 and 2 years old.

McGill is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Arkansas Army National Guard.

McGill said he and Clark are “friendly but not friends, serving together on the parent-teacher organization at the school.”

“First, I’m going to get my feet wet, give everything a fresh look, and see what needs to be changed,” McGill. “There’s a need for improvement in communication, internally and externally.”

Born in Arkadelphia, McGill graduated from Gurdon High school in 1986.

He holds a bachelor’s of science degree in education at the University of Central Arkansas, a master’s degree in education ad-ministration from Henderson State and is certified in school administration and as a superintendent.

By meeting time Wednesday, apparently the only question was the terms of Sharpe’s resignation. Sharpe had packed most of his personal possessions from the superintendent’s corner office, and a district employee was taking them out to his car.

He did not have a lawyer at the meeting, and toward the end of the 100-minute executive session was smiling, looking relaxed and joking with Jay Bequette, the district’s lawyer with whom he had been negotiating only minutes earlier.

The vote to accept his resignation and pay him $185,000 in a lump sum was 5 to 2. Mildred Tatum voted against it because she felt Sharpe had been treated badly.

Charlie Wood voted against it because he didn’t want to pay Sharpe to leave.

Some board members have been trying to fire Sharpe since at least last November, when they claimed he acted too slowly to move elementary school students out of buildings with faulty roofs.

In January, the board voted to honor the two years remaining on his current contract, but not to extend it to the traditional three years.

Sharpe took over as superintendent in 2005, after the board bought out the contract of Don Henderson and after an extensive search by headhunters.

His legacy is his oversight in bringing the district out of fiscal distress. PCSSD could have been taken over by the state Department of Education had the board, under Sharpe’s leadership, not made drastic cuts and brought the district back into fiscal compliance.