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Community Editorial: Leeds High Athletics

PrepsNet Digital Media

BY: Kevin Muir

To Mayor Miller, Leeds Superintendent John Moore, Leeds Board of Education, Leeds City Council, Administration and Faculty of the Leeds City School System and the citizens of Leeds,

Over the past several days there have been many comments and questions regarding the relationship between the Leeds City School System and Athletics personnel, most specifically Head Coach Keith Etheredge. Many comments from Board Members, the Superintendent and the Mayor have circulated through social media and have stimulated many conversations and opinions. There are still many unanswered questions and a lack of information that require attention and should be addressed.
The Mayor and Superintendent have addressed the salary of Coach Etheredge and the “substantial” increase which has occurred over his tenure. The information indicates an increase from $52,000 to $74,000. The actual salary of Coach Etheredge began around $52,000 while he served as an assistant coach. Upon being named Head Coach he did receive an increase to approximately $62,000.
After 10 years of unprecedented accomplishment he has received two raises, the first of approximately $1000-$2000 and another of $10,000 to reach $73,000 (along with an additional sport supplement of $1,000) to reach his current salary of $74,000.

Question 1:
During his tenure as head Coach, has Keith Etheredge ever approached any administrative staff member to request a pay raise for himself?
Coach Etheredge has in fact approached the administration to ask for increases, however, his request was for supplement increases for only his coaching staff. The indication that his decision to resign from his position and accept an offer at another school is not a reflection of his salary.
When Coach Etheredge’s salary is compared to that of neighboring school systems, similar school systems and his accomplishments then it is apparent that there is a discrepancy. Yet, that was not the reason for his decision to leave.
Obviously, the Leeds School system which is comprised of only three schools, it could prove difficult to match or compare salaries to those more established and larger districts. But we must also look at other positions to see how they compare.
Our Superintendent’s salary is among one of the highest paid in the same districts as mentioned previously and in some situations even higher. Especially taking into consideration that our Superintendent does not possess a Doctorate degree and many of the comparative positions do. When comparing the beginning salary and raises, we find that our Superintendent has received multiple raises over the same time period, including an 8% increase this year to approximately $127,000 plus benefits including car and expense accounts. Also included in his compensation package is tuition and fees for his pursuit of additional secondary education. While this is not uncommon for many institutions to promote higher learning to advance associate’s careers and performance, it is highly uncommon and questionable that the curriculum is not for a Doctoral degree in secondary education.

Question 2:
Over the previous 5-6 years that the Leeds School system has contributed to the educational resources of the Superintendent, what was the intended degree and course of studies? Was it in fact to pursue a Law degree and if so, how does the School System warrant contributing city funds for this endeavor?
I believe that this is a valuable comparison to attest to the personal intentions of the Administration and the personal intentions of Coach Etheredge.
Another key topic that was addressed by the Mayor and Superintendent, was a payment of $10,000 which was issued to Coach Etheredge. The Mayor has indicated that this would be a yearly raise yet Coach Etheredge’s contract remained unchanged and reflected no such intention. As well as the understanding that raises must go through processes established by the school system and no such process existed to change his salary. While it is unclear as to the long term significance, we must all agree that Coach Etheredge was deserving of such bonus and his acceptance of this payment is beyond reproach.
We must all agree that Coach Etheredge and his staff are deserving of all compensation and have provided the entire community with unequivocal service and accomplishments. The decision to leave must be recognized and separated from the compensation issues, therefore, we must look at other potential reasons that Coach Etheredge has to pursue other opportunities.
One of the most glaring changes is the departure and turnover at the Administrative level. Last year Mike Turner also left the Leeds School system to pursue another opportunity.

Question 3a and 3b:

Was Principal Turner ever approached by the Superintendent with the directive to “get control” of Coach Etheredge? Was Principal Turner directed by the Superintendent to deliver a message to Coach Etheredge that it would be in his best interest to take the best available job at the end of last year? These questions may seem harsh and unwarranted but must be asked. It would seem absurd and almost unintelligent to make such a request by the Superintendent. But this is not the only time that the relationship between the Superintendent and athletics personnel has been brought into question.  There has been outrage und uproar over the past several years about the intentions of the Superintendent to replace Coach Etheredge. The community has shown resounding support for Coach Etheredge and made such a decision almost impossible to make.
While these questions are very harsh and direct, we can find specific situations where the Superintendent or his associates have acted directly to remove or begin a process to remove a coach without consulting the Athletic Director or Board of Education.  The first example is the dismissal of Coach Carlisle from the baseball program. While serving as AD, it was brought to Coach Etheredge’s attention that the Superintendent had made his decision to terminate Coach Carlisle without consulting the AD. This prompted Coach Etheredge to resign as AD and provides another example of the strained relationship between the administration and athletics.  The second and most recent example was the newly hired Principal Shaw’s decision to remove tenured Coach Shell from basketball without the consultation of the AD. According to Principal Shaw, it was solely his decision. The basketball program under Coach Shell has reached the Regional playoffs in each of the last two years and was one game shy of returning this year. But this demonstrates how easily a coach can be removed simply because an Administrator chooses to do so.

Question 4:
Is it true that Coach Shell was released from his basketball duties last Friday and will be replaced by the JV assistant coach from Principal Shaw’s previous school McAdory?
While it seems to be a stretch that all of the coaches can and will be replaced by any means necessary, we must admit that these examples hit close to home and do not provide for job security.
Another claim through social media is the support given by the Administration to the athletic department and specifically the football program.

Question 5a, 5b and 5c:
Was there any appearance of the Superintendent or Principal on signing day where 7 athletes signed athletic scholarships?
Was there an appearance by the Superintendent at last year’s signing day or ring ceremony?
Has the Superintendent seen any of the 5 locker rooms at the State Championship Games or entered the home locker room to express congratulations or his appreciation to the coaching staff or student athletes?
Has the administration ever approached the coaching staff to show support, offer congratulations or inquire if there was anything that the administration could do to help the program?
There will continue to be many questions raised over the next weeks and months. I am certain that the BOE meeting will not provide any answers but the questions must be asked. If the next meeting follows the pattern of previous meetings we can expect more avoidance of the real issues. The Administration will claim to have supported Coach Etheredge and are disappointed at his choosing to resign. It will not be surprising to see another exhibition of refusal to answer due to advice of legal council. But following the unprecedented social media presence by the Mayor and School Administrators, we certainly deserve answers. We should not be surprised that Coach Etheredge is leaving but rather how long he has survived.
While we cannot change that we have lost the greatest Coach in our schools history, we must look at what we must do to avoid the situation from occurring again.
The upgrade of the stadium and field turf addition are also mentioned by several on social media. But these changes do not come at the support of the football program but rather out of absolute necessity due to the removal of the youth field and no other optional space. This upgrade is the only option to provide a facility that will allow High School Football and Soccer, Middle School, and youth sports.
The final topic that has been discussed on social media is the appointment of the School Board personnel. We want to be sure that we are not being hypocritical and express our sincere gratitude to those who serve on this Board. These individuals do serve in a volunteer capacity which has been addressed by Board members and are correct in doing so. They devote their time to serve our community and our school system.
However, even our youth sports programs have elected Boards. The election process ensures that we, as a city, have the best representation and maximum accountability on all levels. Thereby, removing all personal and selfish intentions whether real or implied. This gives our citizens the opportunity to find the best qualified individuals to represent the school system. It must be clear that the current Board’s qualifications or service is not in question but a process that ensures the system of continued growth and selection can only be guaranteed through an electoral process.
This town needs healing, but we also need answers!