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Indefinite service possible in revised contract

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Proposed revisions to the contract of Corrective Superintendent John Thompson would open the door to him leading the school system for several years, according to a copy of the contract's amendments.

Gone is the phrase "corrective action" from Thompson's title; any reference to the district's accreditation crisis, and the "unusual powers" which led some people to compare the superintendent to comic-book hero "Superman." His annual salary would never go below $285,000.

However, the revisions would authorize the Clayton County Board of Education to keep Thompson beyond 2009, if board members like the job he is doing. The superintendent's original contract expired on June 30, 2009, and authorized the board to extend it for a maximum of six months.

The revised contract is still set to expire next summer, but the extension language was changed to "six months, or more." Thompson said the children of Clayton County are the reason he wants to continue leading the school system.

"They got a bum deal," said the superintendent. "My work here won't be done until we have the accreditation back, and our seniors can matriculate to the college of their choice ... I'm going to give them everything I can."

The board will vote on the revised contract during the Oct. 6, business meeting. At the same meeting, the board will take a vote on board member Michael King's proposed resolution to fire Thompson, and name Gloria Duncan as the district's interim superintendent for the second time in a little over 14 months.

Thompson has said he would like to remain the superintendent for "as long as the community will have me."

At Thursday's public comment meeting, the board heard from several residents who advocated amending Thompson's contract over removing him from his position.

Marsha Gilliam, the mother of a junior at Mundy's Mill High School, said she was skeptical of Thompson when he was hired in April, but it was because of the way former board members hired him. As the summer wore on, she attended Thompson's accreditation meetings. Eventually, she felt "her spirit" tell her Thompson was meant to lead Clayton County schools.

"It's senseless to do a search for a new superintendent when we already have some one," said Gilliam. "A search would be time consuming ... and we need to move forward."

David Barton, vice president of governmental affairs for the Metro South Association of Realtors, said he has talked to his neighbors, teachers and other parents who wanted to see the district have some stability in its leadership. The school system has had three superintendents, and four board chairpersons in the last year and a half.

"They, almost all, wanted him to be left in place, however, they did want the contract addressed -- which you are addressing -- in reference to his title and the clause that allowed him authority over the board," Barton said.

Thompson said, "it remains to be seen," if the majority of Clayton County residents want to keep him in charge of the district, but he hopes to "continue gaining the confidence of the community, especially those people who don't have children in the school system ...

"I'm here, and I'll do what I can to move this school system forward, and when my time here is done, it's done," the superintendent added.

If the board approves the revisions to Thompson's contract, it will be agreeing to never pay him less than $285,000. In fact, Thompson's contract calls for him to receive salary increases every July, along with all other administrators and other district employees. The superintendent's salary has been a point of contention for some members of the community who feel he is overpaid.

Board Vice chairperson Jessie Goree said she was not sure the board could afford to extend Thompson's contract for an extra six months, even if the school system would only pay him half of his annual salary. She also said the board should keep Thompson for the remainder of his contract, and allow him to re-apply for the job next year, if the board does a national search for a new school chief.

"We've been spending a lot of money on the SACS issue, and I'd like to see us spending some of that money on the classrooms," Goree said.