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Gainesville School Board takes no action on Creels contract at retreat
Members recognize superintendent as catalyst for improvement
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Nearly two hours of a closed meeting Saturday led to no action on Gainesville schools Superintendent Wanda Creel’s contract, but the board issued a statement about the “ongoing contract negotiations.”

The closed meeting also led to a much-shortened public discussion of the board’s self-assessment Saturday at the Gainesville Board of Education’s retreat.

Creel started her final year in her contract July 1. The contract ends June 30, 2017.

Board chairwoman Delores Diaz and Creel have said the contract may be extended or renegotiated at any time, with agreement from both sides.

The board met Saturday at Peach State Bank. The agenda included an executive session, planned for 9 to 10 a.m., a two-hour discussion of the board self-assessment and an after-lunch discussion of the proposed new Enota school building.

The executive session was for “personnel” matters and included a typical personnel list, presented by Priscilla Collins, the district’s human resources director. Collins and Creel were in the session at its start. Collins left it within 15 minutes and Creel followed shortly thereafter.

The board then met until nearly 11:30 a.m. in the closed meeting. Diaz provided a statement about the Creel contract after the retreat ended about 2 p.m.

The statement is signed by all the board members and reads as follows:

“The board of education is committed to the continuous improvement of the GCSS (Gainesville city school system).

“The board recognizes and supports the administration’s advancement of the key components of our strategic plan. The board recognized Dr. Creel as a catalyst for these improvements and are committed to ongoing contract negotiations.”

The board’s self-assessment, which is done annually, revealed a strong belief that the district had communications problems when it was raised at a June 30 board meeting.

Diaz brought up the self-assessment at the June 30 meeting and asked for comment. None of the board members said anything.

The self-assessment showed that a board majority ranked eight of 17 standards as “needs improvement.” Most of those standards deal with communication, public relations and openness to the public.

Diaz talked about the self-assessment after the closed session, saying, “During our executive session, we sort of went over into the self-assessment as we were discussing other things.”

She added, “We probably have not done as good a job communicating as we could have, or should have,” and she called for “more openness among ourselves, even if we don’t always agree.”

Board member Brett Mercer said the board needs to “communicate with each other” better.

Diaz also said the district needs to “do a better job of making sure all board members have the same information.”

She asked if the district has a communications policy and suggested that should be developed.

“A lot of our frustrations over the last several months have come from not having these open discussions among ourselves,” she said.

Board member John Filson noted, “An individual opinion is just that — an opinion. It is not a statement that is defining.”

He added, “We are all not going to agree all the time.”

In other business, Creel said the board would consider tentative approval of a millage rate at Monday’s work session.

She said the city requested that tentative approval.

The board can consider leaving the millage rate at the current 6.89 mills, which will generate about $300,000 in new money, or increasing it to 6.98 mills, which would generate $600,000 in new revenue.

One mill represents $1 of tax on every $1,000 of taxable property value.

Sentiment generally was to leave the millage rate as is. The 2016-17 school budget is based on the 6.89 rate. If the higher rate were approved, the board would be required to hold budget hearings to raise the rate.

Board member Sammy Smith asked what the millage rate would be if no revenue increase was included, if that $300,000 was deleted. He noted the district “has a health fund balance.”

Creel said the administration would get that answer by Monday. The millage rate would decrease a few hundredths of a mill.

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