Atlanta School Board Superintendent Erroll Davis listens to supporters at the Atlanta School Board on Monday, December 10, 2012.
By Jeffry Scott
The Atlanta School Board’s 7-2 vote Monday night extending the contract of superintendent Erroll Davis by 18 months gave the board a political and practical out.
The 18 months begins after Davis’ current contract expires in June. The new contract says his termination could be triggered by a board vote to hire a replacement superintendent, or the contract could be terminated for any reason as long as it’s by a majority vote.
Board members said Tuesday their action did not signify lack of confidence in the superintendent, but was an assertion that it’s time for the district to move forward and find a full-time superintendent since Davis, 68, has made clear he wants no more than two more years in the job.
School board member Brenda Muhammad, one of two members who voted against his contract extension (the other was Nancy Meister), said Tuesday she voted that way because she wanted “clarity” from the general counsel before the vote. When she didn’t get that, she voted against the extension.
“I’m supportive of him one thousand percent,” said Muhammad.
Davis said Tuesday he was neither surprised nor disappointed by the vote, even though board chairman Reuben McDaniel had pushed for a 2-year contract extension, which Davis had agreed with.
Davis said his current contract already has a 90-day termination clause. “The only difference is if they terminate me in 90 days now, they still have to pay me for the duration of the contract,” said Davis.
Under the extended contract, if the board decides to pull the trigger it will only have to pay Davis for three months, about $60,000. McDaniel said Tuesday the new contract will pay Davis a salary about the same as his current contract: $240,000 a year.
The 9-member board has been split over the renewal of Davis’ contract since it delayed the vote to extend it in October, the month Davis stirred an uprising of Buckhead students and parents by removing six administrators from North Atlanta High.
Davis took the job in July 2011, in the same week a state investigation found widespread cheating in the administration of the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and implicated about 180 educators, whom Davis swiftly acted to remove.
He took heat last year for his handling of redistricting, closing schools on the south side while he and the board moved to build a $100 million facility at North Atlanta; and for altering school bus routes at the beginning of the school year forcing some students to walk to school through tough neighborhoods.
Davis and the board acted quickly to fix that problem. But the cheating scandal still haunts the district partly because some educators have contested their dismissals before tribunals and won their cases – casting some doubt on how fairly Davis and the district have pursued some of those accused of cheating.