New superintendent? Schools may know soon

The Warren and Fort Frye Local boards of education will know within a couple of weeks whether they need to start looking for new superintendents.

Tom Gibbs, who has been Warren’s superintendent for eight years and took on those duties for Fort Frye last year as well, has had discussions with the Athens City school district about taking a position there. No offer has been made and no action by that district’s board of education has been taken, Gibbs said Friday.

“The Athens City school district and I will have come to an agreement or not by Warren’s May board meeting,” he said.

That’s slated for May 20, but the Warren Local board has scheduled a special meeting for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the administration office to discuss how to proceed if Gibbs leaves, among other personnel matters. The meeting may include a closed, executive session.

If Gibbs does step down, “we want to take action quickly and get somebody in there,” Warren board member Bob Allen said.

Gibbs said the opportunity he’s exploring is the only one that would motivate him to leave his current position. He cited Athens City’s proximity and close relationship with Ohio University, where he has taught school law, finance and other classes in the College of Education for more than 10 years. Working for Athens, he said, would give him a chance to continue in a job he loves, while doing more with the university.

“If we were to work out an arrangement (with Athens), the immediate position would be something akin to a business manager or associate superintendent,” said Gibbs, who lives in Athens County. While some would consider that a step down from being superintendent of two districts, he noted that “sometimes professionally it’s not uncommon for people to take a step back in order to position themselves to potentially take a step forward at a later date.”

Gibbs said he’s had excellent experiences at both Fort Frye and Warren, and would look forward to serving both districts if the Athens opportunity doesn’t materialize. Although he has been the target of heated criticism from some community members as Warren placed multiple bond issues for new schools on the ballot in recent years, he said that isn’t a factor in his considerations.

Fort Frye Local Board of Education Vice President Charlie Schilling praised the work Gibbs has done in his year at the helm there.

“Tom’s done a fantastic job; there’s no doubt about that,” he said.

If he takes an opportunity to better his situation, “that’s good for Tom,” Schilling said. “We’ll hire another superintendent and we’ll move forward.”

Fort Frye’s next board meeting is May 16, the same evening as the Athens City school board is scheduled to meet. Schilling said no special meeting has been planned yet, but the board may set one up to assess its options later in the month.

Allen said Gibbs has served the Warren district well, but added that, if he does leave, “turnover can prompt new growth and more opportunities.”

Earlier this year, both the Warren and Fort Frye boards approved new five-year contracts for Gibbs, each paying him $75,000 a year.

Barring specific incentives or penalties, superintendent contracts generally do not prevent the individual from leaving before the term is up. Allen said he is frustrated with the fact that such contracts are more binding on boards than employees.

“Unfortunately, they can just walk away from that contract at any time,” he said, adding that Gibbs wouldn’t be doing anything unprecedented by leaving. “I would be very hesitant to offer a five-year contract to anyone in the future.”

Gibbs said if he does leave, he would serve out the rest of the contract year, which runs through the end of July. Allen said he would like to see a successor hired in time to work with Gibbs before he leaves.

Warren board President Sidney Brackenridge said the board can take no action “until and unless a change occurs.” If a replacement is needed, the district could be in good shape.

“We have probably more (possible) internal candidates than a lot of other schools,” he said.

It is not known if the districts would consider continuing to share a superintendent. While members of both boards have been pleased with the arrangement, they have also noted one reason for its success is the long working relationship between Gibbs and Treasurer Melcie Wells, who also serves both districts. Some members have said they don’t think the concept would work with just anyone.