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Possible insurance change brings controversy to school board

By Meg Dickens and Tamas Mondovics
Staff Writer, Editor

The Johnson County School Board tabled an agenda item related to a possible insurance broker change during its May monthly meeting. What started as a request for more information lead to accusations and yet another delay in the decision during its regularly scheduled June meeting. Now officials are holding off making a decision once again as more information comes to light.

Officials appointed a 17 person committee made of staff across different schools to hear American Fidelity, Mark III, and Five Points broker companies’ hour-long pitches and give a recommendation on what broker to choose. Johnson County Schools has been with Mark III for a very long time, according to board members. The county is also with Mark III. Now the school system is debating switching to Five Points, which committee members ranked as their top choice.

“Why would we have a committee if we’re not going to follow the committee’s decision?” asked Chairman Howard Carlton.

Board Member Gary Matheson accused the board of “hand-picking” the committee and an underlying bias within the process. When Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox explained that there were communication problems with the current company, Matheson demanded to see the proof on the spot. Adding to the drama—when arguing his point—Matheson mispositioned himself, fell out of his chair onto the floor. Aside from Kevin Long, who got up to offer some assistance, the rest of the board remained seated and watched as Matheson climbed back into his seat following the unfortunate tumble.

“I trust you, so I believe that you picked a good committee,” Carlton said about the issue. “I believe the communications that you say. We need to see how that’s going to affect Russell.”

There is one issue the committee did not know to consider: the effect on the county. According to School Finance Director Tina Lipford, this would “put them in a tight spot.” Having two separate brokers would add more work to Director of Accounts and Budgets Russell Robinson. Matheson reports that Robinson personally told him the county would have to hire a new employee if the school system switched and claimed county officials refuse to switch. Other board members reported no mention of this in any prior meetings, nor did Robinson bring anything up as part of the committee.

“Mr. Robinson was on the committee and at all three presentations,” said Secondary Supervisor Dr. Stephen Long. “I would have thought we would have heard of this before.”

The School Board canceled the abbreviated broker presentations set for the July meeting and plan to speak with Robinson to sort out the facts. Carlton and other board members agreed that posing a “major problem for the county” would influence their votes on how to move forward. At this point, officials say they will most likely stick to the current plan with Mark III.

For more information about Johnson County Schools, visit jocoed.net. Watch board meetings live or in the archives on the Johnson County Schools TN Video Youtube channel.