MUSCLE SHOALS — The city will find out Monday whether a new person will be leading the school system after June 30.
School board members have called a special meeting for 5:30 p.m. Monday to discuss whether to renew Superintendent Jeff Wooten’s contract. His current five-year contract expires in June.
Wooten has been the school superintendent in Muscle Shoals for 11 years.
His contract was on the agenda during a school board meeting last week. The issue was tabled after people in the audience began questioning school board members about why they would consider not extending Wooten’s contract. With some school members wanting to attend a scheduled school function, the topic was removed from the agenda.
About 50 residents, many of whom are school system employees, expressed concern and, in some cases, anger about the proceedings last week.
When board president Pam Doyle called for board member discussion on Wooten’s contract during a work session last week, there was none. Board member Mike Elliott did not attend.
Doyle said Monday’s meeting will not be a “free for all.”
“It will be a controlled meeting, by the rules,” she said. “It’s a called meeting that allows for board discussion only, unless the board chooses to allow public comment. I tried to allow everyone wanting to speak on Monday to do so. We went above and beyond to hear the public’s comments.
“This decision is not about Jeff Wooten; it’s about what’s best for the students.”
Wooten, who has an annual salary of $124,900, was asked if he expected the school board to renew his contract at last week’s meeting. “I didn’t like my chances,” he said.
“I felt like it was possible that they’d tell me they were going in another direction,” Wooten added. “I’m at peace with it. I’m humbled by all the people who showed up in my support and by the emails and calls I’ve received. I’m just ready for it to come to a conclusion.
“It’s in the board’s hands and I just want them to do what they feel is best for the system. I want nothing more than for the school system to succeed and move forward.”
Among the complaints voiced last week was there had been no public discussion about the contract issue.
Doyle has not spoken publicly about the board’s intentions related to Wooten’s continued employment, but said the five-member group has followed its review process. She said superintendent evaluations are done yearly, but a new evaluation tool is in place this year and Wootens evaluation is not scheduled until March.
As far as previous evaluations are concerned, Doyle said, “could his evaluations be better? Sure. Could they be worse? Sure.”
“(Wooten) is judged on his day-to-day job performance, completion of tasks, fulfillment of directives from the board and keeping a visionary path of creating an environment for the highest achievement possible. Everyone is measured by more than one single evaluation. We focus on vision for where the system needs to be.
“To say there’s one component for success that drives our decision would be very single-minded. I’m merely carrying out the instruction and wishes of the board.”
Wooten said his evaluations have not been negative.
He said there have been no formal contract negotiations, but added that at some point within the past year he expressed to each board member that he’d like to see projects through and his daughter, who’ll be a senior next year, graduate.
The school district is in the beginning stages of building a new career technical center and indoor athletic facility.
He said Doyle asked him about his thoughts on the contract about two weeks ago and he responded, “I’d like the board to decide if they want me to stay.”
Doyle said she has gotten no clear indication from Wooten about the contract.
“Based on Dr. Wooten notifying us on two occasions within the past 13 months that he was seeking other employment and could be leaving before the end of his contract, we couldn’t have known he now wouldn’t give us clear directive on what his plans are,” Doyle said.
Wooten was a finalist for superintendent jobs last year in Tupelo and Oxford, Miss.
“We’re getting mixed signals here and this isn’t how we can best take care of this school system,” Doyle said.
On Monday with word circulating that his contract would likely not be renewed, Wooten called an impromptu meeting during the last hour of the school system’s professional development session. Faculty, staff and administrators gathered to hear Wooten address the contract issue.
“I wanted the employees to hear from me and I shared that the possibility was real that I’d be non-renewed,” Wooten said. “I wanted to be there to tell them my thoughts.”
Doyle questioned whether disrupting the session was a wise move.
Wooten said he does not believe the interruption was an infringement on the professional development time.
“This was a matter of school interest,” he said. “I had the right.”
Sally Howell, attorney and director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, said Wooten’s lack of urgency regarding his contract should be an indication to board members.
“The board was going to have a genuine discussion about what to do about the contract, but it became a discussion of non-renewal due to the fact that the superintendent himself talked about his contract not being renewed to the faculty and staff,” Howell said. “That truncated the board’s discussion. There are also legal concerns there because you wouldn’t want to tarnish someone’s professional reputation by discussing various issues.”
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.