Fayette schools hires superintendent’s wife for $75,000-a-year job

Fayette County schools has hired the wife of its superintendent in a newly created front-office job that pays more than $75,000 a year.

The controversial hire has caused consternation in the school district that last year closed four schools and cut hundreds of staff positions due to budget constraints. It drew dozens of online comments on a local news site.

The school board voted late last month to create the Response to Intervention/Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports job, based on the recommendation of Superintendent Joseph “Jody” Barrow Jr. The $75,554-a-year job went to Barrow’s wife, Susan. The school board approved the hire. In the new job, Barrow will work with staff and schools to develop, coordinate and monitor intervention programs for gifted children as well as those with behavioral or academic problems.

One school board member, upon learning the two were married, tried to have the decision to create the job rescinded. His efforts were shot down.

“I was concerned about perceived integrity of the board and the superintendent. I was concerned that some of our employees and some in our community would cry foul,” board member Barry Marchman wrote in an email responding to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution inquiry made about the hire.

“I have met Susan Barrow, but Barrow is not an uncommon name and I did not make the connection with the superintendent until someone inquired about it after the meeting,” continued Marchman , a finance professor at Georgia Tech.

Board member Leonard Presberg said he had no problem with the hire. Barrow’s job was one of 95 positions approved to at the July 21 board meeting.

“She has the qualifications. Our human resources policies were followed,” Presberg said. “I don’t think there’s any question of influence or impropriety at all.”

Superintendent Barrow conceded in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the hire initially created an “awkward situation.” But he said the school district was transparent throughout the process.

“I recognize that some people view things through tainted lens. I can’t control that,” he said. “Our (school) board’s expectation is that we hire the best and most qualified individual for any position that we have, in spite of who they might be associated with, married to or related to. It’s not uncommon for dual-education families to work in the same system.”

Barrow noted that the spouses of two previous Fayette County superintendents work for the Fayette school district.

Nonetheless, the hire drew dozens of online comments to a local news website. Some in support. Some in opposition.

“As a teacher, I do not see the value in the position created for Mrs. Barrow. I am quite capable of collaborating with my fellow teachers,” one post said.

“What a crock,” another post said. “This position was a created in the 2008 Strategic Plan as a ‘coordinator’ position. RTI and PBIS is largely administered at the school level and doesn’t require a PhD at the county level by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not hard to see what happened here, no matter how hard they try to spin it.”

Of the four finalists interviewed for the job, Susan Barrow was the most qualified, a school district spokesman said.

“We went through all the normal hiring procedures,” said spokeswoman Melinda Berry-Dreisbach. The job was advertised and drew 41 applicants, Berry-Dreisbach said. Four finalists, including Barrow, were interviewed on June 24.

Barrow’s salary is commensurate with her qualifications, Berry-Dreisbach said. She has a doctorate of education in the areas of curriculum, foundations and reading from Georgia Southern University and 14 years experience.

The job was created after elementary school principals requested it about a year ago, Berry-Dreisbach said. They wanted a person housed at the district’s central office. Barrow reports to the director of School Improvement and Professional Learning. Superintendent Barrow was not involved in the interview process, Berry-Dreisbach said.

Fayette schools does not have a policy covering nepotism, Berry-Dreisbach said. In fact, the spouses of two previous superintendents worked as teachers in the district.

State law says no one can serve as a school superintendent if they have an immediate family member on the local board of education or working as a principal, assistant principal or system administrative staff. An immediate family member is defined as a spouse, child, sibling, or parent or the spouse of a child, sibling or parents.

Barrow was hired in 2013 and earns about $190,000 a year as superintendent.

Fayette students returned to school last Thursday.