Baker says focus will be as Sumter School Board member

Former superintendent doesn't feel his trustee position will be awkward for new district leader

BY BRUCE MILLS bruce@theitem.com
Posted 11/9/18

Frank Baker does not think it will be awkward for the next superintendent to have him - the district's most recent former superintendent - on the Sumter School Board because he's in a "different role" now.

Baker, who won the most votes Tuesday …

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Baker says focus will be as Sumter School Board member

Former superintendent doesn't feel his trustee position will be awkward for new district leader

Posted

Frank Baker does not think it will be awkward for the next superintendent to have him - the district's most recent former superintendent - on the Sumter School Board because he's in a "different role" now.

Baker, who won the most votes Tuesday for one of two at-large seats on the board said Tuesday he has no desire to be a superintendent again but stopped short of answering whether he would step into the role again if asked, calling it a hypothetical and "ridiculous question."

That question was asked of him five years ago in July 2013 when the consolidated district parted ways with its initial superintendent, Randy Bynum, and he accepted the position of interim superintendent. Four months later, in November 2013, Baker was named the full-time superintendent in a split vote by the then seven-member board.

He would serve as the district's superintendent for about four years, until July 2017, when he and the board mutually agreed that it was in everyone's best interest for him to retire as the district was coming out a financial crisis from fiscal 2016 that revealed $6.2 million in overspending. There has been an interim superintendent in the role since, but her term is coming to an end to make way for a full-time leader to begin next year - a decision in which the school board gets final say.

Baker served 40 years in the former Sumter School District 2, the last 19 as its superintendent, before it and the former Sumter District 17 consolidated in July 2011 and Bynum was named the first superintendent. Baker did apply for that position but wasn't selected as one of the three finalists for the post.

When asked initially in the interview if he had aspirations about being a superintendent again, Baker said he had no desire.

"No, I have done my time. I did 23 years as a superintendent, and I enjoyed all 23 years, and that's the past," Baker said.

He said if he were still interested in a superintendent position, he would have made his name available for an interim superintendent post in another district because there are plenty of those opportunities out there regularly.

But he didn't answer "yes" or "no," when asked if he would step into the role again if asked at some point by the rest of the board.

"Why in the world would anybody be asking me to be the superintendent?" Baker said. "I am not even going to respond to that because it's all hypothetical. Why would you want to be concerned with that? If that were the case, why would I even run for the board? I would have been looking for another superintendency if I wanted to be a superintendent. There are plenty of opportunities out there."

He was asked again if he would answer definitively.

"It's a ridiculous question," he said, "and we need to move on."

A superintendent's worth of experience

Baker said the next full-time superintendent wouldn't be in an awkward position with him as a board member because he's in a totally different role now.

"As a board member, I am going to be playing that role, and I'm not going to be dealing with the superintendent end or the administrative end of it," Baker said. "It's a totally different role that you play as a superintendent and you play as a board member. And now, I am not superintendent; so that role is gone. The role is the role of a board member."

He said he would feel the new leader would understand the different roles of a board member and a superintendent.

He said it's the same concept as having former principals or teachers serving on the board.

"They had to cast that role aside and take on the role as a board member," Baker said. "So, it's no different whether you are a retired principal, retired teacher or a retired superintendent. You've got to embrace the fact that the roles have changed.

"I don't see how it would be awkward," Baker said. "Again, this is the role of the board member. And, I don't even know if the person would know me or not know me. They are doing a national search [for a superintendent]. That person wouldn't know anything about me and my leadership and my tenure in the district. It's not going to be a problem."

Top priorities in the district

Baker said he's ready to get to work on the board and considers recruiting and retaining top-notch teachers to be a high priority for the district to improve student achievement. He also said it's important to have the best principals and administrative leaders at the school level to work with those teachers.

"We have got to channel our support to the teachers," Baker said. "That's going to be the answer for our district moving forward."