In a 6-2 vote Monday night, the Bibb County school board reached a settlement with Sharon Patterson that will end her decade-long tenure as superintendent of schools.
The board approved a settlement with Patterson that will pay her $198,000 in one lump sum. Patterson will continue as superintendent through the end of the month.
School board president Gary Bechtel said the agreement also calls for the school system to cover Patterson’s legal fees related to any issues she faces from the state’s Professional Standards Commission, which is investigating Patterson’s administration for failing to report in a timely manner incidents of alleged principal misconduct.
Deputy Superintendent Sylvia McGee will temporarily fill in for Patterson at meetings and take over some of her duties, Bechtel said. A search will begin immediately for both a short-term and long-term interim superintendent, while the board conducts a national search for Patterson’s permanent replacement.
“She has been a visionary superintendent, and she’s accomplished many things,” McGee said. “I respect the decision she’s made. She did that in the interest of the district. ... It’s an emotional time.”
The board met for an hour behind closed doors before emerging to take a public vote. Board members Lynn Farmer and Susan Sipe cast the dissenting votes. Both said it was because they think Patterson’s severance package pays her too much money.
After the vote, Bechtel and Patterson both issued statements.
“We wish to thank Mrs. Patterson for the work she has done for the district,” Bechtel said. “She’s given tireless hours to the district.”
Many of the board members left before Patterson read her statement. Board member Tom Hudson declined to comment as he was leaving.
Patterson read her statement after several board members left the meeting room. She outlined the accomplishments of her 10 years as superintendent and defended herself in light of recent criticism of her leadership.
“The allegations that have been made against others and me have no merit,” she said. “However, the allegations and subsequent investigation have been disruptive to the school district and have cast a shadow on the school district and the dedicated professional educators who work here.”
Though she will no longer be superintendent, she will do whatever possible to restore her reputation, she said.
“I intend to devote my full time and energy to clearing my name and defending myself against the meritless charges that have been made against me,” she said. “It would be unfair for me to continue serving as superintendent while having to do so.”
Patterson joined the school board as an assistant superintendent for special projects in July 1997, and was promoted to interim superintendent two years later. She became the permanent superintendent in January 2000.
Her contract, which pays her about $200,000 in salary per year in addition to insurance and other perks, was to run through June 30, 2011.
Community leaders said Monday night that educating Bibb County’s young people should be the focus as Bibb looks for a new superintendent.
“A lot of people in the community weren’t happy with the performance of the system,” said Chip Cherry, president of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce. “The quality of education affects our ability to be competitive when we’re trying to bring more business, and it affects our ability to service companies that are already here.”
Cherry said the community must “do what we’re supposed to for these children and make sure they get the education they need.” Regarding the search for Patterson’s replacement, he said: “We have to find the right person, not just a good person.”
Cherry declined to comment on Patterson’s tenure.
“That’s done now,” he said.
Andrew Blascovich, spokesman for Mayor Robert Reichert, said Monday that while the mayor’s office doesn’t have all the information the school board does, “we believe Patterson had a successful record of building new schools in the communities.”
“But if the board felt it needed to go in another direction, we will trust their judgment as elected officials,” he said. “We’ve committed to working with partners like the board of education and the county to improve the whole community for everyone.”
Efforts to reach Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart for comment were unsuccessful late Monday.
During Patterson’s tenure, Bibb County voters approved three special-election sales tax initiatives. The tax money has been used to build and renovate Bibb County schools.
The issues between Patterson and the board came to a head in recent months when Patterson became a subject of a state ethics investigation that was looking into whether she and other members of her administration failed to report incidents of principal misconduct in a timely manner.
In September, two Bibb County school board members — Bechtel and Farmer — filed complaints with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission alleging that Patterson and two of her top assistants failed to report a principal who was having an affair with a subordinate and another principal who was accused of choking a student.
A Telegraph inquiry revealed that the state commission also is investigating a third principal alleged to have mismanaged federal Title 1 funds. That case wasn’t reported to the state within the required 90-day time period, officials said.
Community leaders have said recently that Bibb’s graduation rates and test scores have not been up to par.
Patterson was named the state’s Superintendent of the Year in 2006 and was one of four finalists for the national award. She earned praise during the nomination process for helping the system gain fiscal independence.
Telegraph staff writer Chris Horne contributed to this report, which includes information from The Telegraph’s archives.