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Mecklenburg County trustees mull contract extension for Thornton / July 16, 2014
The Mecklenburg County School Board expects to meet before the month ends to consider a contract extension for Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Thornton, whose current employment agreement runs out in mid-2016.

As word of a possible contract renegotiation has spread, at least two school trustees, Dale Sturdifen and Glenn Edwards, have questioned the timing of the discussions and the need for an extension.

The pending meeting was called by School Board chairman Robert Puryear, who sent out a late-night e-mail to trustees following the last Board meeting on June 23. “This is [sic] 30 day notification that we will renegotiate the Superintendent’s contract to be made retroactive to July 1, 2014 at the next regular school board meeting to be held on July 23, 2014,” wrote Puryear in the e-mail, sent at 10:54 p.m. “We will also hold a vote during the open meeting on July 23, 2014 for the approval of the renegotiated contract.”

On Monday, Puryear indicated that he may ask to reschedule the special meeting for July 31, since he will be out of town on July 23. School Board members who were contacted this week say they have been told the meeting is set for Wednesday, July 23 at 7 p.m. The School Board regularly meets on the third Monday night of each month.

Thornton was first hired in 2010. His current contract, with a base salary of $125,000 plus benefits, does not expire until June 2016.

By renewing his contract now, trustees conceivably could extend Thornton’s employment for years after the next School Board elections, set for 2015.

Sturdifen suggested that trustees ought not to act without first letting the public weigh in on the status of the oft-controversial superintendent. If “the renegotiation is an increase in money or time, then the community should have a time to voice their concerns at a meeting before the vote is taken,” he said.

However, Board chairman Puryear said contract discussions should be conducted amongst the trustees, not members of the public, as with all such employment matters: “I will say that public input is not necessary for contract terms due to it being a personnel issue. As with any employee’s contract terms, we don’t ask the public for their input due to that being a personnel matter.”

Both Edwards and Sturdifen say they have sought an explanation from Puryear about the purpose of any renegotiation, and they wonder if a possible contract extension has been discussed among certain board members to the exclusion of others.

As word of the June 23 meeting has spread among parents of school-aged children who have been critical of Thornton’s leadership — including his curriculum reforms and management decisions — one detractor, Kimberly Mullins, wondered this week if the planned vote has anything to do with Mecklenburg County’s recent showing on SOL (Standards of Learning) exams.

Thornton acknowledged during the June trustees meeting that it is very likely Mecklenburg County will have no fully accredited schools once this year’s SOL results are published. At the end of the 2010/2011 school year, all Mecklenburg County Schools were fully accredited.

By the end of last school year, Mecklenburg County had two schools fully accredited, Park View High School and Chase City Elementary School. The rest were accredited with a warning. One school, La Crosse Elementary, was classified as a focus school — meaning its test results placed it in the bottom 10 percent of schools in the state for certain classes of students, such as minorities, disadvantaged students and those with disabilities.

Across the state, 77 percent of the schools are currently fully accredited. In Mecklenburg County, only one-quarter are fully accredited.

Several Mecklenburg County schools have been accredited with warning because of lagging math SOL scores.

A school can receive the accredited with warning classification no more than three consecutive years. If by the fourth year the school fails to achieve fully accredited status, then the state denies accreditation outright. When that happens, the school must provide parents and other interested parties with written notice of the school’s accreditation rating, and a copy of a proposed corrective action plan describing the steps to be taken to raise student achievement.

In any school division where one-third or more of the schools have been denied accreditation, the School Board is required to evaluate the division superintendent and submit a copy of the evaluation to the Board of Education.

If Bluestone Middle School is not fully accredited this year, it will be the third consecutive year it received an accreditation with warning. One more year and the school could have its accreditation denied.

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Why would the school board renew a contract when the current contract still has two more years left? If it was January 2016 and you wanted to renew his contract because it was expiring June 2016 - that makes sense, but not two years in advance. The teachers do not know if their contracts are going to be renewed two years in advance nor does other central office personal. You need to stop treating MCPS Superintendent like a Fortune 500 CEO.


If administrator and teacher retention rates and SOL scores are the performance measures, this CEO would have been fired long ago. According to the code of VA, this extension is not even legal.


I think the voters need to look at Sturdifen and Edwards in the next election as they continue to drum up lies and disrupt board meetings. They both have an agenda and it certainly is not the children.

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