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Metro School Board votes to buy out Dr. Shawn Joseph's contract

Shawn Joseph with cameras.jpg
Posted at 5:49 PM, Apr 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-10 00:35:39-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Metro School Board voted Tuesday to buy out Dr. Shawn Joseph's contract as director of schools, ending months of controversy surrounding the embattled director.

The final vote was 5-3 in favor of the severance.

Board members Sharon Gentry, Rachael Anne Elrod, Christiane Buggs, Will Pinkston, and Gini Pupo-Walker voted for the buyout. Jill Speering, Amy Frogge, and Fran Bush voted against the deal. Anna Shepherd was out sick. Joseph did not attend the meeting.

Joseph, the first African-American director for Metro Nashville Public Schools, began working in the district in July 2016 after signing a four-year contract that ran into 2020.

Under the agreement, Joseph would have no duties with the board after April 12, other than to support the interim director up to July 31, 2019.

The buyout would have Joseph earn his normal salary through July 31st, in addition to being paid for any accumulated vacation time and potentially sick time.

He would then be cut a check for $261,250.

The board would also pay for up to $10,000 in attorney fees for Joseph in the defense of his license by the Tennessee State Board of Education. The state board has proposed a one-year suspension for failing to report teacher misconduct cases.

Under the agreement, both Joseph and the board agree to a mutual non-disparagement provision, and neither party may bring lawsuits against the other.

A NewsChannel 5 analysis estimates the total cost of Joseph's buyout to be at least $350,000.

"Dr. Joseph is ready to go and leave what amounts to hostile working conditions," said board member Will Pinkston, who has staunchly defended Joseph. "So this is a voluntary separation conversation. This is not a firing, so to speak. Otherwise, I wouldn't vote for it."

For months, Joseph has faced a sexual harassment scandal, which has already cost the district $350,000 in settlements -- with more expected.

Our NewsChannel 5 investigation also uncovered questions about no-bid contracts, including a million and a half dollars for software the district never really used.

And Metro Schools' own law firm recently warned the district faces a morale crisis under Joseph's leadership.

"Under these circumstances, I think it would be wrong to pay the director more money," said school board member Amy Frogge.

Frogge, a vocal critic of the director, argued that the board had more than enough reason to terminate Joseph's contract -- without pay.

Christiane Buggs said the board only had itself to blame.

"I don't personally believe that throwing out any number of allegations or accusations is holding the director accountable.," Buggs said. "We did not hold the director accountable because we did not do our part."

Another Joseph critic, Fran Bush, lashed out at black leaders who defended Joseph by accusing his critics of being racists.

Bush, who is African-American, said she has been attacked by her own community.

"I don't care how many more sticks and stones you throw at me -- I understand that this has been a race war in this city," Bush said.

"It's not about the color of their skin, I've always taught my boys. It's about the content of their character. And Dr. Joseph did not realize that he had every ability to come into this district and do very well. And he failed to do that.

"And you can laugh, you can chuckle. It does not bother me. I told you my skin is a lot thicker now because I'm doing the right thing by these children and by the teachers."

Dr. Adrienne Battle was named the Interim Director of Metro Nashville Public Schools shortly after the board's vote.

Joseph came to Nashville after serving as the deputy superintendent for Prince George's County (Md.) Public Schools, one of the nation's 25 largest school districts.

He wrote the following letter to MNPS staff after the vote:

Dear Staff, At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, the board and I mutually agreed to change the terms of my contract. As a result, Friday, April 12, 2019, will be my last official day of service. The Board of Education has selected Dr. Adrienne Battle as the Interim Director of Schools, and I stand ready to support her and the board through this transition. It has been my honor to serve as your Director of Schools. I am thankful for the leadership of Dr. Sharon Gentry and Ms. Christiane Buggs, and I am confident that the Board of Education will rally behind their new Interim Director. After nearly three years, we have seen positive improvement within our school district in multiple areas – a significant feat in a district of this size which has been plagued with many long-standing and pervasive issues around academics, organizational structure and culture. I am confident that momentum will continue to build. I will continue to support public education and the thousands of children who deserve the very best we can provide to them. I will continue to fight for equity and excellence and be a vocal and action-oriented advocate for children, families, and school system employees. I look forward to continuing meaningful conversations about how best to support our children. You can keep in touch with me via LinkedIn or Twitter. My new Twitter handle is “@UnchainedJoseph." Again, thank you for the opportunity to serve Metro Nashville Public Schools. Sincerely, Dr. Shawn Joseph Director of Schools

NewsChannel 5 Investigates has delved "deeply and thoughtfully" into various allegations against Joseph, including a sexual harassment scandal, questions about no-bid contracts, and a morale crisis in the district. Here’s just some of our reporting on the controversies surrounding Joseph since 2016:

What you need to know about Shawn Joseph’s controversies

TIMELINE: Metro Schools Investigations

14 Metro schools educators participate in a Teacher Town hall, revealing their concern for Nashville's 86,000 school children, as well as their own safety

State proposes one-year suspension of Shawn Joseph's license

Shawn Joseph asks school board to negotiate his departure

What did Joseph know about sexual harassment? ‘He was aware,’ assistant principal says.

View our full coverage of Metro Schools Investigations here