WCSD superintendent’s contract extended in split vote; questions about race raised

The Watson Chapel School Board voted 5-2 Monday night to approve a one-year extension of Superintendent Danny Hazelwood’s contract, with one board member questioning the number of African-Americans that Hazelwood has hired.

Hazelwood, in his seventh year as the district’s chief, was in the second of a 3-year agreement prior to the decision. The extension did not include a salary increase. Hazelwood earns $122,478 annually.

Favoring the extension were Directors Robin Barker, Sandra Boone, Donnie Hartsfield, Danny Holcomb and J.J. Jones. Shade Culclager and Ronnie Reynolds were opposed.

During the meeting, in which he requested a roll-call vote, Culclager asked Hartsfield — the board’s president — for permission to distribute a request. Hartsfield approved the action, and Culclager handed a sealed paper to each of his counterparts.

After the meeting, a Commercial reporter requested and received a copy of the typed communication, in which Culclager posed five questions and two requests for documents. He wants Hazelwood’s reply to be made available to all board members “within five working days.”

Culclager asked how many certified teachers have been hired in the past five years, how many of those hires were African-Americans or other minorities, how much it would cost to give the district’s certified teachers an across-the-board 1.5-percent salary hike and how that might impact the district’s finances. He also requested copies of signed contracts of all central office employees for the 2009-10 school year and a copy of a board-approved policy that grants the superintendent authority to give district employees up to a 5-percent pay increase without board approval.

Culclager stepped away from the reporter to obtain a copy of his statement, and while returning stopped for a brief conversation with Reynolds, who followed with a paper of his own for the reporter. Reynolds’ one-page, typed statement — which he said he had provided to other directors in a non-public session — cited Hazelwood for exhibiting “poor skills” in senior management, supervision, communication and trust, minority recruitment, chief executive officer-employee relationships, financial/budgetary oversight, and community relations and involvement.

On Tuesday morning, Culclager visited the newspaper and provided the reporter a copy of a single-page, typed statement that he said he would be distributing that day to Hazelwood and other directors. In the communication, Culclager questioned Hazelwood’s adherence to the district’s minority teacher recruitment plan. Culclager said that during the past five years, of 42 certified teachers hired, only five were African-American. Culclager said the district’s student population is 70 percent African-American. Hazelwood is white.

“Our goal is to employ personnel in numbers that reflect the ethnic or racial composition of our student body,” Culclager wrote. “However, race, color or national origin shall not be considered in the hiring or promotion of a teacher or administrator.”

Culclager urged Hazelwood — if the hiring information within the statement was correct — to “start using the district minority recruitment plan to recruit and hire qualified African-American teachers immediately so the district will be in compliance with the goal of the district minority recruitment plan.”

Culclager said he was concerned about possible litigation against the district, saying information contained within his statement could cause the district to “face individual lawsuits and class-actions (sic) that could cost this district tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments and lawyer fees that could cause the possible takeover or consolidation of our district with other districts by the Arkansas Department of Education.”

Visited at his office Tuesday afternoon, Hazelwood was advised of Culclager’s Tuesday morning statement. Hazelwood then provided records showing that 32 African Americans and two other minorities are among 105 certified teachers hired since 2009.

In regard to Culclager’s meeting communication, Hazelwood said, “I will try to provide Mr. Culclager with the information he wants. I don’t think he’ll find anything against the law or our district’s policy.”

Hazelwood said that although he wishes the district had more African-American teachers, “not all African-American applicants are highly qualified.”

“I’m not concerned about the information Mr. Culclager asked for,” Hartsfield, the board president, said by telephone Tuesday afternoon. “I think most of it has already been asked for and received.”

Hartsfield said that it was unnecessary for him to vote on Hazelwood’s contract extension as the measure would have passed 4-2 otherwise, but he wanted to publicly show his support of the superintendent.

“We all have room for improvement, but I think Mr. Hazelwood has done a good job overall,” Hartsfield said.

Director Sandra Boone said by telephone Tuesday afternoon that her primary focus as a board member is the education of the district’s children.

“We as board members need to do our job,” she said. “Board members have to be trained to be good board members.”

She said Culclager — appointed to the board by the Jefferson County Quorum Court in December after the November death of Director Maxine Nelson — has not received any training.

“The board doesn’t need to be micro-managing Mr. Hazelwood,” she said. “(Board members) have gone to Mr. Hazelwood before on concerns we’ve had, and he always does his best to make things like we’ve asked for. I asked him in the past to make an effort to hire more African-Americans, and he did. He always does his best to comply with the board’s wishes. We need to let him do his job.”

Boone said that she doesn’t care about a teacher’s skin color.

“We need to focus on hiring the best qualified persons,” she said. “Not everyone who is certified is necessarily qualified to work with our children.”

In other business Monday night, the board unanimously approved one-year contract extensions on 14 other administrators: Cornovious Branch, Schaun Brown, Natasha Dunn, John Hayden, Ronnie Johnson, Rosie Martin, Ronette Metcalf, Kristy Sanders, Anne Shaw, Tim Taylor, Henry Webb, Sandra Williams, Leydel Willis and Uyolanda Wilson. The number includes six principals, four assistant principals, a deputy superintendent, a special education coordinator, a food service director and a gifted and talented program director.

When asked how many members of the group represented a racial minority, Hazelwood said 10 are African-Americans.