County BOE accepts superintendent’s buyout; Collier appointed as acting superintendent
Published 11:16 am Friday, December 15, 2023
The Escambia County (Ala.) Board of Education accepted the buyout of Superintendent Michele McClung’s contract during a special-called meeting today at the Atmore Central Office.
McClung’s contract was the only item on the agenda.
Board President Loumeek White called the action item, stating that McClung will go on leave effective 10 a.m. today, her employment with the school system will end Jan. 31, 2024 and she will receive the full value of her contract, which will have ended June 30, 2024 in a lump sum.
District 1 Board Member Kevin Hoomes then made a motion that the board accept the buyout of McClung’s contract as superintendent of the board of education effective Jan. 31 for the balance of her salary due to the terms of her existing contract until June 30, 2024, paid in a lump sum on Jan. 31.
“After Jan. 31, 2024, Michele McClung is relieved of her duties and responsibilities as superintendent including the terms of her contract and shall have no further obligations,” Hoomes read. “I further move that her request for special paid leave be granted.”
District 4 Board Member Cindy Jackson seconded Hoomes’ motion, and before the vote, some board members spoke.
“I had limited sleep last night,” District 2 Board Member Danny Benjamin said. “As I thought about it, it’s almost as if we’ve won a national championship in performance and grades, and may very well be the most improved system in the state. It’s almost as if we’ve won the national championship, and we’ve fired the coach. That’s exactly what happened. Shame on us. I hope you can sleep at night as I do, because what’s been done is a major injustice.”
Benjamin added that a person’s contract should be extended because of job performance, not personal opinion.
“I’m saddened and angry; disappointed and all of the above,” he said. “Our board is in disarray. We need team building. If we don’t get it together, our system is going to suffer. Our children should mean more to us than what we’re doing here today. I pray Ms. McClung well, but this is a sad day. A person’s contract should be solely based on job performance, not personal opinion.”
District 3 Board Member Mike Edwards said a lot of things have been directed toward McClung over the last few months.
“A lot of blame has been directed toward Ms. McClung over the last few months by a lot of people sitting up here and in the audience,” Edwards said. “A lot of it is untrue. A lot of it is unnecessary. And it was all to cover up… press, past corruption in this system by previous administrations. Ms. McClung had nothing to do with it. She’s absolutely guiltless. She had to expose these atrocities in our system, and because of it, she’s become the target of those here in front of you and some in the audience. It’s atrocious. I’m ashamed of this county, and of this board of education for what they’re doing. Just like Mr. Benjamin said, we’re firing a coach that brought us to victory. It’s a shame.”
Hoomes, Edwards, Jackson, White, District 6 Board Member Sherry Digmon and District 7 Board Member Coleman Wallace voted yes on the buyout. Benjamin at first voted no, but later recanted and recast his vote as yes.
Before casting his vote, Wallace asked specifically what he was voting on. “A payout?”
Jackson answered, “all of it.”
“I want her to get paid, and I want her to get to some normalcy in her life for a change,” Benjamin said. “I would like to recant that vote. I will vote for our superintendent to be paid.”
Hoomes then moved to appoint Assistant Superintendent Dr. Michele Collier as acting superintendent, effective 10 a.m. today.
Digmon seconded, and the board approved by a unanimous vote.
Then, discussion was had among board members and Board Attorney Kirk Garrett on what’s next in finding the next superintendent.
Garrett suggested the board meet to discuss options, and not to start a search. He added that a workshop can be held for the discussion on what the options are, and depending on the meeting, the board can decide to do a search.
Wallace said there is urgency on finding a replacement, and the board needs to be “sober-minded.”
Benjamin said as far as finding a superintendent, he believes the board needs to work on some team building and understand that they’re stronger together than we are apart.
“If we are going to succeed as a board and do things that are positive for the school system, then we’ve got to be on one accord,” he said. “We don’t have to always agree on some things, but we need to be on one accord on this to be successful in this thing called education.”
White said the first thing the board needs to learn is how to respond to each other’s opinion.
“If you don’t agree with it, that’s fine,” White said. “Each of us have an opinion, but we may not agree on it at all. If we make a move and decide to go in a different route, respect that opinion. Pick up the phone and talk to that person so that we understand what that person is talking about and not how they feel. One thing we have to do is communicate. From this day forward, let’s all communicate.”
Benjamin then said, “When you call, you’ve got to answer the phone.”
“Did I not call you back?” White said.
Benjamin then suggested team-building exercises again, and added that the board has got to do what’s best for the system and the children.
“I think that can be accomplished if we put things in place,” Hoomes said.
Edwards said the problem is that board members don’t share their opinion, but we have to know each other’s opinion.
“We’re here this morning because we’re ending her (McClung’s) contract,” he said. “No one has put forward why we’re doing that. Let me hear an opinion from either of the four of y’all (referring to Jackson, White, Digmon and Hoomes). Silence. No opinions. Why are we doing this? No opinion.”
White then said, “I think we’ve been through all of that. I think we just need to go ahead and move forward with this.”
“I think that’s the problem,” Edwards said.
The vote to accept the buyout of McClung’s contract comes more than two months after the board of education voted to non-renew her contract. She was hired as superintendent on Aug. 12, 2021.
During the Oct. 12 meeting, Benjamin, Edwards and Wallace voted to renew. Jackson, Digmon, White and Hoomes voted not to renew.
Since the October meeting, Digmon and Jackson have been indicted by an Escambia County grand jury in their roles as board members.
Digmon, who is also the co-owner and publisher of the Atmore News and News Reporter Don Fletcher were recently arrested and indicted for allegedly revealing grand jury secrets. Jackson was arrested Dec. 4 on a grand jury indictment for allegedly revealing grand jury secrets.
Additionally, Digmon in her role as a board member, was indicted in early November on ethics violations.
Once the special-called meeting was adjourned, McClung immediately left the chamber.