School board retains Turner as superintendent

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

After two hours' deliberation at a special meeting Tuesday night, the Eureka Springs School Board returned from executive session to vote unanimously to retain Harold Curtis Turner as superintendent. The board will negotiate a contract.

Turner has served as in interim superintendent since January 1, following the resignation of Wayne Carr. The other two candidates were Delena D. Gammill, a Capacity Building Leader with the Arkansas Department of Education, and Lewis Villines, a principal from Flippin.

Board president Charlest Templeton said that choosing among the three finalists was a tough decision.

"All three candidates were extremely impressive, and all three had strengths," he said. "For myself, it was a matter of the right person in the right place at the right time. I kept going back to what we need at this time."

The decision did not start out unanimous, said Templeton. The board held a vigorous two-hour discussion, taking a 10-minute break in the middle. But they kept at it, he said, until they felt they could reach a consensus.

The three candidates were narrowed down from a list of five recommended by superintendent search firm McPherson & Jacobson, whom the board hired to work with stakeholder groups in the school and larger community to generate a list of desired qualifications and interview questions. The firm then sifted through numerous applications, generated its list of finalists and set up interviews with the final three candidates. Each of the stakeholder groups -- board, administrators, teachers staff and students -- interviewed each candidate and then were to list, without ranking the candidates, the strengths of and concerns about each. The only group not involved in the interviews was the community group, Templeton said, on advice of McPherson & Jacobson, who told the board community groups in the past had been unable to avoid ranking the candidates.

Asked if the board felt the $7,000 it spent on the services of McPherson & Jacobson was worth it since the board ended up retaining Turner anyway, Templeton replied he thought the money was very well spent.

"The process was extremely thorough," he said. "All the stakeholders were very involved, and we had good responses from the interview groups."

He said the candidates themselves especially praised the student group.

"Our students were extremely impressive with their interviews. They asked tough questions. It's really great when candidates say your students are a great group of young people."

Turner has worked as a superintendent since 1986, serving a total of five years in Delight, Ark., one year in Glenwood, six years in Clinton and four years in Murfreesboro. He has worked with the ADE on schools that are in fiscal distress and has a strong background in finance and Arkansas law.

Architect Laura Morrison, the project manager for the new high school, said while the board was deliberating that she had hoped they would choose Turner, who has had experience with school construction projects in the past.

"He's easy to work with, and he knows what we're doing. I showed him the plans, and he understood what we're about right away."

Templeton also had high praise for him.

"I think he'll be a real community person, someone parents can call, and he'll talk to them," he said.

Also during the special meeting, the board opened by going into executive session and returned about a half hour later to vote unanimously to accept the resignation of high school EAST lab teacher Mila Floro. Floro has been on administrative leave since February, following her arrest for alleged theft of property, discovered during an audit. Floro's lawyer contends there was no willful wrongdoing, but instead there were accounting errors.

The board also approved depositing its remaining high school construction bond money of $9.1 million with Cornerstone Bank, which had the highest interest offer over the next year: .53 percent. Two other bidders offered less: Community First Bank, the current account holder, at .52 percent; and Arvest Bank, with a series of "laddered" CDs whose highest interest rate was .25 percent. These interest rates are a drastic reduction from this last year's current rate of 1.67 percent. Funds to be withdrawn over this next year to pay school construction bills are expected to be withdrawn at a rate of about $1 million per month and leave a balance of about $1.5 million, at which point the board will seek interest rate bids again.

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