By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley was granted another year to lead the school system, after the county's board of education voted to extend his employment contract on Monday night.
The contract extension, which takes Heatley's contract through June 30, 2013, was approved by a 6-3 vote. Board members Trinia Garrett, Jessie Goree and Michael King voted against granting Heatley an extension. It brings the length of the superintendent's contract back to three years, which is what it was when it was originally approved last year.
The board members who voted in favor of the extension said they did so to bring a sense of stability to the school system. When Heatley took over in July 2009, he became the district's fifth superintendent in less than two years. He is now in his 15th month as the county's schools chief.
"The one thing that has plagued this county has been turnover," board member Mary Baker said. "We've had constant turnover at the top, and as a result, we've never had a plan long enough to make it work ... I would like to see our children have more than one or two years of leadership before there is a change. Without consistent leadership, they've been treading water."
Heatley, who said he asked for the contract extension, said none of the other terms of his contract -- such as his annual salary, or health benefits, -- will be changed. That means Heatley's contract will continue to grant him a base salary of $250,000, per year, as initially approved last year.
That was a point underscored by board member Charlton Bivins, during public discussions on the contract extension, in an effort, he said, to make sure audience members understood what was happening. "Let me make this perfectly clear," he said. "This extension is extra time. It's not extended benefits."
Heatley said he asked for a contract extension so he would have time to finish ongoing work he is doing with the school system. The district's accreditation remains on a probationary status, the school system (like other districts across the state) is facing budget constraints. Heatley recently re-organized the district's administration, and he is still under a mandate from the school board to improve student achievement.
"You want to finish what you started," he said. "It was going to be difficult to do that with only two years. In order to see through the improvements that are underway, I need to have three years to finish it up. It also shows stability in the school system, and that we're committed to moving this district forward."
Baker, in her comments to the public, said she felt repeated turnover in the superintendent's position had hurt academics in the school system, although she added that she believes the schools have soldiered on despite the constant turnover.
"The schools have been doing the best they can, but it's been difficult with all of the changes at the top," she said. "We can't move to the next level without consistent leadership."
In her own comment, School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson thanked Heatley for agreeing to come to the district last year, from the Chino Valley (Calif.) Unified School District.
But, not every board member said they were ready to give their approval to the job Heatley is doing. "I think this is a business decision, and a business decision should be based on data," Goree said. "I'm still waiting on data. Without data, I don't think I can support a contract extension."
King both praised Heatley, and expressed unspecified concerns about the superintendent. "I do believe Dr. Heatley is a very hard-working individual, who is doing a good job," King said. "But, I do have some concerns, which I'm not going to go into at this time. However, I will continue to support him."