BOE picks Roper as next director

By Thomas Wilson

   The Elizabethton Board of Education has picked Dr. David Roper as the next director of Elizabethton City Schools -- at least they think so.
   The board voted 4-1 to enter into negotiations with only Roper - who was one of two finalists along with Guy G. Fisher - picked for the director of schools position at a called meeting Thursday night. Roper and Fisher earned the most votes from the school board over candidates Dr. Richard McInturf from Bristol Tennessee City Schools and Dr. John D. Payne, most recently superintendent of Unicoi County Schools.
   If contract negotiations are successful, Roper could leave his sweet home as superintendent of schools in Roanoke, Alabama to take office as Elizabethton City Schools' new director by next month.
   "What are we getting with the same amount of money?" said Bob Berry, who along with BOE Vice-chair Judy Richardson, expressed the desire to negotiate only with Roper alluding to his experience as a superintendent and his doctoral degree in Education. Fisher's highest degree is a master's degree in teaching from the Alaska Pacific University and he has never held a superintendent's position.
   A question could arise regarding whether Roper will accept the offer made by the board. The base salary for the director's position is presently set at $83,000, excluding health benefits and annuities.
   "It is our benefit to negotiate with two," said BOE Chairman Dr. Bob Sams, who cast the lone no vote to negotiating only with Roper.
   Each of the five board members submitted a ballot selecting their top two finalists. Roper received a vote from all five board members; Fisher picked up three votes, and McInturf received two votes while Payne received none. Fisher picked up votes from Catherine Wooten Armstrong, Richardson and Sams, while McInturf received votes from Berry and Dr. Jonathan Bremer.
   Roper has been superintendent of Roanoke City Schools since 1999 after more than 20 years with Birmingham City Schools. Fisher III presently serves as director of human resources with the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System. Fisher spent 25 years in the Alaska public education system before moving to Clarksville.
   Now, the board will begin negotiating a contract that can be acceptable to them and Roper. A contract's acceptance, or refusal, could weigh heavily on whether Fisher remains a possible selection.
   When the issue of contract negotiations came up, Armstrong maintained the salary should be lower than the present figure. She and Bremer also felt the life of the next contract should be two years rather than the four years set with the last director.
   "I think the last couple of times it seems the superintendent has had the advantage," said Bremer. "In that, if they chose to leave, they are free to go, whereas if the board is dissatisfied, we have to buy out the remainder of their contract."
   Berry, Sams, and Richard felt a three-year contract was more appropriate given the next director's learning curve during his first year. Board members also indicated wanting the next director to start as soon as possible and the system would likely pay for moving expenses based on a recommendation from the Tennessee School Boards Association. The board used TSBA's Superintendent Search Service to gauge community and system employee feeling and provide the BOE with a list of candidates. The four candidates were culled from a field of 20 applicants reviewed by TSBA.
   After the meeting, Bremer and Armstrong said Roper's budgetary skills and human appeal swayed them to pick him. Berry and Richardson also said Roper's proven experience in budgeting sold them.
   "We need somebody who can come up to me and say, 'Mr. Berry, this is why we're doing this,'" Berry said.
   Richard Culver has served as interim director of schools since June. Culver said he planned to hand over the reins of the system to the next director by Dec. 1. He also sympathized with the board's decision of choosing among four highly-qualified candidates.
   "This is the kind of night you don't want to be on the school board," said Culver.