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Patrick board shifts its focus to the superintendent search

Sunday, January 19, 2014

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A resignation agreement approved Thursday by the Patrick County School Board and Schools Superintendent Roger Morris will allow the school division to move forward and focus on finding a new superintendent, officials said.

“I was tickled to death” with the vote approving the agreement, school board member Ronnie Terry said.

The motion stated that Morris submitted his resignation — and the board agreed to terminate his contract — effective Jan. 31. Morris will remain on leave until then, and he will be paid his regular salary between Feb. 1 and March 31, as well as unused annual leave accrued through Jan. 31. He also will continue to receive health insurance coverage through June 30.

Because it is considered a personnel issue, the agreement will not be made public, officials said.

However, Terry estimated it will cost the school division less than $50,000.

Morris turned 48 on Friday. While he stated in a letter to the school board that he had decided to “retire for health reasons,” he said in an interview Friday that he is “weighing my options” for working after he retires. “I’ve got some options coming my way.”

He said the options are not in this area, but they are in the education field. He declined to be more specific, saying things are “not official.”

Terry, who served as board chairman in 2013, said he had worked since October on an agreement to sever ties between Morris and the school division. Offers and counter offers were made and negotiated between the board, Morris and attorneys representing both sides, Terry said.

Thursday’s vote represents healing, closure and opportunities to move forward, Terry said. The vote was unanimous.

“We need to move forward. We’ve been stagnant too long,” he said.

Newly elected board Chairman J.D. Morse said he supported the agreement because “it was just a good opportunity for closure and so we could move forward. We can begin our search for a new superintendent.”

A new superintendent will help central office staff who have “doubled up on duties” to get through what Terry described as a rough year. “It’s time to help those folks” who have had additional responsibilities added to already full workloads, Terry said.

Terry said, the clock will begin ticking Feb. 1, the day after Morris’s employment officially ends. The board then will have 180 days to fill the position, he said.

“We also need to talk about appointing an interim superintendent” and to decide “how to do the search for a permanent superintendent. Those are the first things we need to do, from my perspective,” Terry said.

Dean Gilbert has been acting superintendent while Morris has been on medical leave.

The Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) “does a good search for candidates, but we really haven’t gotten into” a discussion of how to best conduct a search or appoint an interim superintendent, he said. “All of those are things we really haven’t talked about yet.”

Terry — who stepped down as chairman Thursday — said he was “tickled to death” with that as well. Terry said his year as chairman “was a long year. I’m happy to cut back some. I’m hoping we can move right along and have a better year. We’ve got a pretty good group to work with.”

Morse is in his first term on the school board. He was elected in November and took office in January.

“It’s somewhat surprising being a new member and being elected as chairman, and it’s going to be tough searching for a new superintendent. I feel like that’s going to be a heavy task,” he said.

From attending school board meetings and talking to staff, Morse said, “I know there have been times that the air was heavy and morale was low, but I really believe the system as a whole held strong. We have a lot of good quality people in place.”


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