In front of a packed house, Bryan County school board members voted 4-3 to oust Superintendent Sallie Brewer during a called meeting Thursday night.
Associate Superintendent John Oliver was appointed to replace her until a full time successor is named.
Chairman Eddie Warren proposed a $180,000 buyout for the superintendent, who was first elected to the job in the 1980s and then appointed to the role in 2002.
"I’m a lot more expensive than you expected," Brewer responded. She named "a quarter million" as her price.
Brewer, whose contract was renewed last year despite some objections, made $145,589 in 2008, according to open.georgia.gov, a website which tracks salaries of state and some local officials.
Also voting to end Brewer’s reign as superintendent were first-term Vice Chairman Jeff Morton and first-term members Charlie Johnson and Dennis Seger.
All three campaigned on removing the superintendent.
"We’ve just decided to move forward in a different direction," Warren said. "The system is good, but it can be better."
Seger declined comment.
Morton defended the move, saying the board wants new leadership, and so do the majority of the residents who voted for those members.
Voting against the buyout were school board members Mary Warnell, Judy Crosby and Joe Pecenka. They cited the cost and the manner in which it came to the school board for a vote.
Warnell said she was opposed to the motion to buy out Brewer "for many reasons," and in a written statement cited specifically that the issue was never discussed by the board at a regular meeting, in an executive session nor workshop.
Morton said three days notice was given, and Warnell could have called Warren or himself to discuss the matter further.Warnell also accused Seger of telling people there was going to be a called meeting and that Brewer’s contract would be bought out before Warren had heard about a called meeting.
Morton said her statements are second hand and "hearsay."
Warnell said they are "squandering tax dollars and destroying trust" with their "behind the scenes manner and lack of integrity, where moral soundness and uprightness was driven by personal agendas, egos and promises made at election."
She later said: "Today is a dark day for Bryan County schools."
Johnson said the majority of the community wanted change, and this is a positive move for the system.
"The people of the third district, who I represent, made it clear to me they want new leadership," Johnson said. "Dr. Brewer has done a lot for the system, and we appreciate that. But there are a lot more opportunities for our children that are not being looked at. My conscience guided me to cast my vote in a way that is in the best interest of the children, teachers, parents and the community at large."
Brewer provided a lengthy prepared statement. It said, in part:
"When you give a superintendent perfect evaluations and then buy out the contract, reasonable people will reach the conclusion that there are personal, political agendas."
Brewer, who has spent more than 30 years in the Bryan County School system, ended her written statement by noting she spent Thursday taking care of teachers and other staff members.
"I spent what I assumed to be the last day of service to Bryan County children signing 500 contracts for certified staff," she said, concluding with: "The best teachers in Georgia have a valid contract for 2009-2010. It is my gift to staff and children."
Pecenka said the buyout could jeopardize the financial stability of the system. He said Brewer has her faults, but she has a talent for balancing the budget.
"February marks the start of the budget process," Pecenka said. "I understand that, with a new board, change is inevitable, but now is not the time for that change … I do not understand nor do I agree with this decision, but I respect the decision of the majority and will work toward finding a new superintendent."
Pecenka also questioned spending around $200,000 on this at a time when they are faced with potential lay-offs among staff due to budget cuts at the state level.
Morton said this dollar amount is worth the change, noting that the system has a $50 million budget. He said, in comparison, the board recently contemplated spending $155,000 on temporary aluminum coverings for walkways at Richmond Hill Middle School.
But reaction at the meeting favored Brewer.
"The kids are the ones who will suffer because our school system doesn’t know what it’s like without stability," said teacher Maria Hodges.
"I can’t believe such fiscal irresponsibility," said Lanier Primary Principal Patti Newman. "Plus, we need the stability she has brought to the system. We need someone with the knowledge she has."
"This is a good thing. It’s time for a change," said Richmond Hill resident and Beef O'Brady's owner Doug Goolsby. "This whole thing started two years ago when she wouldn’t let the band get to Washington. She’s not someone who listens or is open to working together with local businesses. With Dr. Brewer, it’s her way or the highway."
Goolsby said Brewer does little to support extracurricular activities, "but this isn’t just about that. It’s about leadership, teamwork and quality education."
"They’re talking money crunch and they go and do something like this," said Anne Miller, a Bryan County teacher.
Miller said she thought sports was a driving issue and some of the board members were putting sports ahead of education.
-See full statements from Brewer and Warnell in the print edition