EDUCATION: No announcement made on fate of So. Lee coach

Dec. 12, 2012 @ 05:00 AM

After about a dozen former players and other community members gathered Tuesday night to publicly support Tom Paris, head football coach at Southern Lee High School for the past three seasons whose job is currently listed as vacant, it’s unclear what actually happened.

Paris’ supporters were at the December meeting of the Lee County Board of Education, where School Board Chairman Lynn Smith had previously said a closed session meeting would determine Paris’ fate. Paris told The Herald earlier this week that he was caught off guard when Principal Bonnie Almond told him she wanted to go in another direction.

Several people spoke in his favor, saying a losing record shouldn’t overshadow the stability and leadership he brought to both the program and the individual players’ lives. One speaker, Terry Tipton, noted that the school board had set the precedent in the past of overturning a principal’s coaching decision, telling the board: “Although it seems a foregone conclusion because the job’s already been posted, I implore you to look into your hearts and do what’s best for the students of Southern Lee and reinstate the coach.”

Former player Billy Tienken, 2011 graduate whose senior year was Paris’ first at the school, told the board: “We demonstrated better teamwork, leadership, everything — both on and off the field. ... We didn’t have a successful season. But I took more from that season than I did as a freshman playing for a playoff squad.”

However, despite the attention paid to the issue, both Smith and Superintendent Jeff Moss refused to comment on whether Paris was still the head coach after the board got out of closed session, with Moss saying that Paris wasn’t brought up at all.

After that, the board went back into closed session to give Moss his annual, formal performance review, the results of which will be kept from the public eye due to state personnel laws.

The board’s open session kicked off with three songs from the J. Glenn Edwards Elementary School Chorus and a presentation from Transportation Director Reid Cagle, who reported that the district’s bus system is considered in good standing, meaning the district will get all the money for transportation the state allocated during the last budget process — news Moss praised because of rising gas prices. He also commended Cagle for having the lowest number of safety hazard notifications of all districts in the area.

The board also approved its consent agenda, including its Capital Improvements Plan, requested annually by the Lee County Board of Commissioners, outlining all major construction and repair projects planned in the next five years. There was no discussion about the plan, which Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Parks was in the audience to see passed, but in reports posted online, the district listed six projects in order of priority, with the first four concerning heating and air and other rennovations at East Lee and West Lee middle schools.

According to the report, the renovations would improve efficiency so much they would pay for themselves in three or four years simply due to lowered operating costs. The fifth priority project, to build a new elementary school, has been on the district’s radar for some years.

According to the plan, the schools don’t want to start anything next year, but do plan to begin construction sometime after the start of the 2014-15 fiscal year — if the county funds the project, which it estimates would cost about $15.8 million.

In that first year, the schools want $10 million for the new school from the county to hire various engineering and planning firms, as well as to begin construction. In 2015-16, the district is requesting $5.75 for furniture, equipment, machinery and other expenses.

Last on the list is a $1 million request for heating and air rennovations at the Lee County High School auditorium that didn’t get tackled in a two-year, $21 million project that concluded in September. In total, the six requests total nearly $25 million over several years.

Parks said before the meeting he hadn’t seen the details of the funding requests, but that the schools would have to prove they needed the funding before his board would give the money.