March 14, 2014

Dalton school system chief’s contract extended

By Christopher Smith

— The Dalton Board of Education unanimously voted to renew Superintendent Jim Hawkins’ contract as head of Dalton Public Schools for another three years.

Despite the 5-0 approval, one board member asked to delay the vote.

Hawkins, the system’s superintendent since 2009, will be a crucial component when discussing the growth of the school system as it addresses overcapacity concerns this year, board chairman Danny Crutchfield said. The system has increased from 5,659 students in 2003 to about 7,700 students today, filling halls and classrooms to capacity, particularly at Dalton Middle School and Dalton High School.

An un-elected committee of school and community members the board of education created in January is reviewing several solutions — including a new school — and will bring a recommendation to the board in September.

Board member Steve Laird motioned Monday night to “bench” the contract renewal until after the committee made an official recommendation, but didn’t receive support from the other board members. The motion died for the lack of a second.

 “The logic there, as I told the group, is that we are looking at critical plans right now,” Laird said. “This decision will impact our community for 20 to 30 years. It’s long-reaching. My motioning to table Jim’s contract renewal wasn’t a reflection on Jim. It was more of, we know this is coming up, let’s get that done and then go in and extend the contract.”

Laird said tabling the contract discussion till after “major decisions are made” would have “put the focus on achieving one goal (getting a solution to overcapacity) while we work on normal goals.”

“If it doesn’t get done, if we are not able to accomplish this, if we run into challenges, then that would be a shame,” he said. “Would that all be his (Hawkins’) fault? This was just an encouragement for him. That was my logic.”

Crutchfield said “the rest of the board felt those priorities are clear and we can hold Jim accountable” without having his contract on the line.

“I am proud of our board contending with each other,” he said. “We are better when we do that. And it’s fair to Jim. We have very high expectations for him. He has very high expectations for himself.”

Laird emphasized that there was “no one person who is saying Jim is not the guy for the job of superintendent.”

“This was just my way of putting that out there: that everyone in the room, board and superintendent, need to put ultimate importance on (capacity),” he added. “I’m pretty comfortable that we are going to get this done successfully.”

The contract runs through Dec. 31, 2017. His annual salary remains at roughly $164,000 a year plus a yearly car allowance of $12,000. It’s “exactly the same” as his last contract, which was approved in 2011, according to several board members.