Board Chair Vicki Beaty explained that, during its May meeting, the governing body voted to change the director evaluation method to one created by the Tennessee School Boards Association.
She said she and Sammie Humphrey, the assistant to the director, met Tuesday afternoon to review and compile the “board observational data” that came in the form of anonymous surveys filled out by board members and turned in the week prior.
The evaluation form asked board members to rate McDaniel on a scale of 1 to 5 — with 5 being the best — in a variety of categories and subcategories. Beaty and Humphrey averaged those scores and compiled them into a list, and part of it was read during Thursday’s board meeting.
Reading only the average scores from the six main categories, Beaty said McDaniel’s overall evaluation score was 3.58. McDaniel received a 3.34 average in the category of “Board Relationship,” 3.77 for “Community Relationships,” 3.51 for “Staff and Personnel Relationships,” 3.46 for “Facilities and Finance,” 3.36 for “Vision” and 3.91 for “Student Achievement.”
“Those are the results from the performance evaluation that was submitted by individual school board members and tallied,” Beaty said.
Board member Troy Weathers said he was “confused” by some of the scores that went into figuring out the average score.
Reading from a copy of survey results in the packet of information given to board members, he said he did not expect to see so many scores of 1, which on the form was said to mean McDaniel was “significantly below expectations.”
“I’m just amazed. ... We have some of the highest test scores in the whole area here,” Weathers said. “We have a superintendent that was ‘Superintendent of the Year’ last year; we have all 5s [on systemwide Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System scores] for the last three years.”
He added he wondered if McDaniel had been given the chance to speak with the person who had given McDaniel all 1’s on the evaluation survey.
Comparing the school system to the way a business is run, he said the school system has seen good “profits” under McDaniel’s leadership in the form of students succeeding.
“I think it’s a terrible score, if you just want to know the truth,” Weathers said. “The results, ladies and gentlemen, are outstanding in Bradley County.”
That statement garnered sustained applause from the audience for several seconds, before Beaty pounded her gavel to restore order.
Beaty pointed out the surveys being anonymous meant they could not be sure if the person who gave McDaniel a large number of 1s on the survey was one of the people who scheduled one-on-one meetings to ask questions of McDaniel before the evaluation. She also said at least one person chose to give McDaniel all 5s, meaning “you had both ends of the spectrum.”
While the evaluation was allowed to be anonymous, at least one board member chose to sign the form.
“I was the person that gave him all 5s,” Weathers said. “I’m not afraid to tell you that.”
Board member Chris Turner said that it was his second year on the board and the second year with him evaluating the director of schools, and he realized after the first year that it was important for school board members to agree on what is meant by certain words and phrases on a director’s evaluation.
“I thought it was imperative that the board had a conversation about the definition,” Turner said. “The only common word between 1 and 5 is ‘expectations.’”
However, he said it did not surprise him to see such a wide range of scores, noting that the seven board members had seven different opinions.
Turner went on to say that he questioned whether a person who gave a school director all 5s on an evaluation had “realistic” expectations.
In averaging the seven different scores, board members’ scores rated three perfect 5s, 3.53, 2.46, 2.367 and 1.8.
“For a director of schools that makes 5.7 times the average per capita income of the residents of Bradley County, I have very high expectations,” Turner said. “To meet those expectations at a rating of 3, I don’t believe is a great rating.”
According to McDaniel’s current contract, which lasts until June 30, 2016, he makes $118,258, not including benefits.
Weathers said again that McDaniel’s leadership has led to positive results within the school system, and the system’s two high schools boast graduation rates of 94 and 95 percent.
Board members Beaty, Turner, Weathers, Nicholas Lillios and Charlie Rose voted to add the results of the evaluation to the record. Christy Critchfield voted against it, and Rodney Dillard was absent.
McDaniel said afterward that he valued the input and would continue to work for the school system “with excellence.”
“It is my pleasure to serve the students and work with the teachers of Bradley County,” McDaniel said. “Education is a passion for me — not a job.”
Beaty said she wanted to “clear up” an issue that had been published in the Cleveland Daily Banner after a reporter requested information from Humphrey, who serves as the school system’s records custodian, earlier in the week.
On Monday, a reporter called to ask for copies of the individual survey forms filled out by school board members in advance of the meeting in which they would be discussed. Humphrey said she would need to check with the school board’s attorney to see if that information could be released.
Humphrey sent the reporter an email on Tuesday saying she had spoken with the attorney, and asked that a written request by the Banner for the evaluation forms be delivered to her in person.
“If you will drop this by the Central Office, we will comply according to T.C.A. 10-7-503,” Humphrey wrote.
Section (a)(1) of the portion of Tennessee Code Annotated Humphrey referenced defines what can be released, “As used in this part and title 8, chapter 4, part 6, ‘public record or records’ or ‘state record or records’ means all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, microfilms, electronic data processing files and output, films, sound recordings or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any governmental agency.”
The statute of state law continues section B, “The custodian of a public record or the custodian's designee shall promptly make available for inspection any public record not specifically exempt from disclosure. In the event it is not practicable for the record to be promptly available for inspection, the custodian shall, within seven (7) business days: (i) Make the information available to the requestor; (ii) Deny the request in writing or by completing a records request response form developed by the office of open records counsel. The response shall include the basis for the denial; or (iii) Furnish the requestor a completed records request response form developed by the office of open records counsel stating the time reasonably necessary to produce the record or information.”
Section (2)(A) of T.C.A. 10-7-503 states, “All state, county and municipal records shall, at all times during business hours, which for public hospitals shall be during the business hours of their administrative offices, be open for personal inspection by any citizen of this state, and those in charge of the records shall not refuse such right of inspection to any citizen, unless otherwise provided by state law.”
In keeping with the wording of state laws, the reporter asked to be given copies of the evaluation forms in printed or electronic form or the opportunity to read the evaluation forms in the office rather than receive copies of them to take out of the office.
Humphrey said it would not be possible for the reporter to view the documents onsite and that the reporter would have to wait for a response, citing the need to consult the attorney again.
Details on the records-gathering process were published in Thursday’s edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner. An official denial of the records request was emailed to the reporter at about noon Thursday — after press deadlines — and before the school board meeting.
“I would also like to address — and really I guess with a question — the article that was in the Banner tonight (Thursday),” Beaty said during the meeting. “It’s my understanding that Ms. Humphrey had emailed the final evaluation for the director of schools and the tally sheet which was included in the board packet and stated that because they are working papers as defined by Tennessee Code Annotated 10-7-301 14, individual board member notations used to complete the final evaluation do not fall under the Public Records Act.”
Late Thursday afternoon, Humphrey sent an email that contained the “tally sheet” that included the categories and subcategories on which McDaniel was rated. While the subcategories were not listed in the meeting, they concerned everything from “has a harmonious relationship with the board” to “promotes academic rigor and excellence for students so that they are college and career ready.”
Two of the seven board members gave McDaniel 5s in every single subcategory, while one person gave him 1s in most of the subcategories. The scores other school board members gave McDaniel ranged widely.
Also included with the email bearing the “tally sheet” was a copy of a 32-year-old opinion from the office of the Tennessee Attorney General.
“An evaluation report of a school superintendent conducted by the members of a school board is a ‘public record’ or ‘state record’ and must be made available for public inspection under the Open Records Act, unless (1) the report is not made pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of the Board's official business; or (2) the report is among the "working papers" of the Board; or (3) the report is made confidential by Tennessee law,” read the opinion written by Attorney General William M. Leech, Jr. in 1982. “The law defines ‘working papers’ as those records created to serve as input for final reporting documents, including electronic data processed records, and/or computer output microfilm, and those records which become obsolete immediately after agency use or publication.”
However, the attorney general opinion said that it did not provide a concrete answer to the question of whether school superintendent evaluation forms were public records.
“In applying these general principles to your question, this office can not give a conclusive answer to your question without more information concerning the particular form of local government involved, the manner in which the evaluation report is made,” Leech wrote.
An official opinion has not been provided in the case of the Bradley County school system’s director of schools evaluation. However, Beaty said the opinion was evidence of what state law required.
“The discussion was regarding exactly the question the Cleveland Daily Banner had asked the central office,” Beaty said.
Addressing a Banner reporter present at the meeting by name, Beaty then asked the reporter to confirm that the email had actually been received. The reporter said nothing but nodded her head, confirming the tally sheet information had been received Thursday afternoon.
However, the original records that had been sought by the Banner for visual inspection were the actual evaluation forms filled out by board members, not a tally sheet.
Tennessee Press Association legal counsel Richard Hollow charged this morning the county school board has no valid argument that the evaluation forms are “working papers.”
The board, through its counsel, cited a 1982 Tennessee attorney general’s opinion that in the case of an evaluation report of a school superintendent, those records do fall under the Open Records Act unless they are considered “working papers.”
“Working papers” are defined as records created to serve as input for final reporting documents.
“These evaluation forms are not working files,” Hollow said after being transmitted the board response to the Banner’s request for records. “The opinion with which the board has used as their defense states a definitive answer could not be given without more information on the specifics.”
Hollow noted even the opinion the board cites states, “We assume that, in the most frequent type of situation, a superintendent evaluation report would be made by a board of education ‘pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business’ of the board. Such a report would fall within the definition of ‘public records’ or ‘state records’ and would be required by the Open Records Act to be made available for public inspection.’
“What the board has provided to the public are only numbers,” he said. “It does not reflect how those numbers were determined.”
“Each of the members of the board are required by law or statute to fill out these evaluations,” Hollow said. “These are not scratch sheets. These are the final opinions of each member as to the performance of the director of schools. Once they are handed over to the central office or board chairman and placed in the files, they become official communications by official agents of a government agency, and are considered to be available according to the Open Records Act.”
Hollow also said those evaluations would normally be kept as part of the director’s personnel file which would also be available to the public under the Act.