Members of the Gainesville Board of Education informally agreed in May to extend Superintendent Wanda Creel’s contract, then some members apparently changed their minds before she announced in September she would not stay on when her first contract expires, according to emails between board members.
Creel said at a Sept. 5 board work session she would “transition to cheering for the Red Elephants from a distance” when her contract ends June 30.
Information about the contract, and the board’s agreement on it, was included in emails to and from board members in May. The Times made an open records request for the May emails in September.
Neither Creel nor board members said anything about her contract not being extended at the Sept. 5 meeting.
Delores Diaz, board chair, said Friday the board did agree on a contract in May.
However, Diaz said, “Some of the board members had a change of heart, and as it turned out, we weren’t able to bring a contract forward.”
She declined to say which members changed their minds or what caused it.
“I really don’t know what the thinking was,” that caused the change, Diaz said. She said she favored the extension of the contract. Diaz made a statement praising Creel at the Sept. 5 meeting.
Creel, vice chair Brett Mercer and board member Sammy Smith responded to requests for information, but they declined to add specifics.
“At this time, I have no further statements to provide other than those that have previously been given,” Creel said in an email.
Smith confirmed that he chose not to attend a May 11 executive session at which the contract was discussed, but he declined to talk about the issue further.
Mercer agreed that a majority of the board agreed to a contract extension in May.
“I was in full support of extending the contract, and on more than one occasion, we agreed to extend” — once with four members, once with all five. “But it never came to a public vote,” Mercer said. “There were board members that did not appear to want to stick with the decision they had made.”
Emails were sent to board member John Filson, and an email and voice message were left for member Willie Mitchell. Neither responded on Friday.
According to emails from Diaz to board members and between Diaz and Phil Hartley, the attorney for the board, four members agreed to the extension and a new contract was drafted by Hartley.
In a May 17 email, Diaz said, “I talked with Wanda last night after the meeting and gave her our offer. She was very pleased and accepted it without a counter. I called Phil Hartley today and asked him to draw the new contract with the additional two years and the increased salary.”
She sent the email to Mercer, Filson and Mitchell. Those three members, plus Diaz, attended the closed session at which the contract extension was agreed upon.
Smith did not attend that session, which came after a regularly scheduled meeting that he did attend.
In an email May 24, Hartley told Diaz, “I have attached a draft of a new contract for Wanda along the lines we discussed.
“In that regard, all that I changed was the term in paragraph 1, the annual salary in paragraph 3, and then I removed the items that had to do with moving expenses and the transition in residency since all of that has been accomplished. Everything else in the contract remains the same.”
The school board held multiple closed sessions for personnel discussions from May to August. At least five called meetings were held to discuss personnel issues.
The board held a retreat Aug. 13 that started with an executive session. The agenda called for an open meeting starting at 10 a.m. with a discussion about the board’s self-assessment. That did not occur. The closed session went until after 11:30. For most of that session, Creel was not included.
Diaz announced when the board went back into open session that the board had discussed the self-assessment in the closed session. The board issued a statement after the closed session about “ongoing contract negotiations” with Creel.