Bentonville Superintendent To Negotiate Contract With School Board

The Bentonville superintendent is one step closer to having his contract renewed, following a School Board vote Thursday night to enter negotiations to work out out new deal in the near future.

The meeting was called to discuss whether to renew Supt. Michael Poore’s contract, amid allegations the board’s president was trying to get rid of the superintendent.

The Bentonville School Board voted unanimously Thursday night to “negotiate an amended three-year employment agreement for the same compensation terms, but with new accountability criteria that is mutually agreed upon by Mr. Poore and the board,” according to the motion as read by board member Willie Cowgur.

The board’s decision followed nearly four hours of deliberation, which ended just after 11 p.m.

Cowgur followed up the motion by saying, “Basically, what we are offering Mr. Poore is a renewal of a three-year contract.”

Although the motion itself is not technically a renewal, board member Rebecca Powers said the intent of the motion was for a renewal of Poore’s contract, and that any other consideration is just a technicality.

“There is no way around that,” Powers said. “They voted to renew his contract.”

The newly-planned contract is contingent on adding what board members called “accountability criteria,” to make sure the school district is progressing toward its goals. When a final deal is reached between the School Board and the superintendent, Poore will enter into a new three-year contract, said board member Grant Lightle.

That deal may take weeks or months to work out. Until then, Poore’s contract will not be renewed, Lightle said. Powers said such a view is “negative”, that board members all understood their votes were for renewal, and the rest is just technical.

About 100 attendees, including teachers and parents, packed the board room, many with signs supporting the superintendent.

Just under four hours after entering a closed-door executive session to discuss Poore’s contract, board members emerged and announced their decision.

The crowded board room filled with cheers and applause, as the superintendent told attendees he was anxious and honored by the School Board’s decision.

The board allowed public comment before entering the closed-door executive session, during which people spoke in favor of Poore. No one spoke against him. The School Board then went into executive session.

Thursday meeting was a continuation of an executive session meeting that began Monday, following the district’s regularly scheduled School Board meeting earlier that night.

BPowers earlier this week accused board president Wendi Cheatham of orchestrating a scheme to stop Poore’s contract from being renewed with the district. The School Board is tasked with deciding each February whether to extend the superintendent’s rolling three-year contract.

If Poore’s contract with the school district is not renewed, he will still have had two more years remaining on his deal with the district.

Powers delivered an impassioned speech during the district’s School Board meeting Monday, defending Poore against other board members she called “bullies”, later clarified to include Cheatham.

“Wendy has wanted Poore to leave this district since she took position on the board,” Powers said at Monday’s School Board meeting. “I know this because she told me that over a year ago and repeatedly since then.”

Although Powers told 5NEWS she and some other board members wanted to keep Poore’s job safe, she was worried Cheatham could have enough votes prior to Thursday’s meeting to stop the district from extending the superintendent’s contract.

Powers estimated at the time there could have been four votes against Poore, out of the seven-member board.

The process of renewing the superintendent’s contract is usually perfunctory without much fanfare, but this year is different, Powers said.

Powers alleges Cheatham added new documents to the evaluation process without telling Poore or the other administrators, although she said she did not know if she could legally divulge what those documents entail.

“I and other members of the school board have allowed horrible and shameful activities to occur that have impacted our superintendent, his leadership team and our administrators,” Powers said.

She said with the departure of former School Board President Travis Riggs, the new president has been formulating a scheme to oust the superintendent. If Poore’s contract is not renewed by the board, he would still have two years left in his employment with the school district.

The rift between the superintendent and the board president began while administrators were deciding whether to push for a second high school to alleviate overcrowding at Bentonville High School, Powers said. She said Poore initially backed a plan to build a ninth grade center and keep all of the city’s high school students under the banner of Bentonville High School.

Voters last year approved a millage request to build a second high school, a move Poore supported. His detractors, though, never forgot his initial push for a ninth grade center, Powers said.

Powers said she overheard Cheatham say of Poore, while in a restroom, “I want him gone,” a declaration Powers said she believes may be against board rules under the banner of discussing personnel issues outside of a formal board setting.

Powers said she has even been looking at rules to determine whether Cheatham can be censured.

Powers said the board president has a reputation around the school district for “bullying” administrators by belittling them personally in what should be professional settings. She said she could not discuss specific instances of “bullying” because she was not sure what she could divulge because of laws concerning executive sessions and personnel issues. Powers alleges, though, that Cheatham frequently denounces the school district’s financial status, despite finances being strong, and often personally attacks Poore when discussing such issues in public.

Powers does not think Cheatham can offer an unbiased evaluation of the job Poore has done as superintendent.

“It’s a hostile work environment,” she said.

5NEWS briefly spoke with Cheatham by phone Wednesday afternoon. She said she was uncomfortable speaking on the phone, but would answer any questions via email. Cheatham stated through email that she was uncomfortable answering the questions and discussing any details, but released the following statement:

Making a difference for our children and their education is something that I will continue to focus on. Our goal as a board should be to work together to come up with solutions for our district. Out of respect for my fellow Board Members and our Superintendent, I would not be able to discuss any of these details.

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