Local leaders discuss Looney’s tenure in county

Published 4:40 pm Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mike Looney’s tenure as Butler County School superintendent garners a mix of strong emotions from leaders across the county.

Greenville’s mayor, Dexter McLendon, is one of those with a fervent wish for Looney to remain at the helm of the county school system.

“This (superintendent’s position) is the most important job in this county,” McLendon said. “Education has been the Achilles’ heel in our county. We know this from the Koreans and the other industries that have looked at coming here. We’ve got to educate the kids to prepare them for a successful future for their sakes and for our county.”

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McLendon described Looney’s accomplishments as superintendent as “amazing,” saying the system have come along “by leaps and bounds.”

“However, we aren’t where we want to be yet, and that’s why we need Mr. Looney to stay and see it through,” McLendon said.

McLendon said he is encouraging all those in the county who support Looney to let him know they want him to stay for at least one more year.

“It’s not yet a done deal…I truly don’t believe he really wants to go. No, we can’t match the money they are offering, but we can let him know no one else out there wants him more than we do,” McLendon said.

McLendon admits Looney’s expected departure is a highly personal issue for him.

“I know what kind of heart he has. I know how hard he has worked for this county’s educational system, and I think it will be a great loss for our schools if he does go,” McLendon said.

County commissioner Jerry Hartin of Georgiana said he would personally be glad to see Looney leave.

“I’m not saying he hasn’t done some good things,” said Hartin. “He spearheaded the new construction projects. I am proud of that new school in Georgiana and proud of those magnet students. But I am also very disappointed in how the south end of the county has been treated.”

According to Hartin, $19 million was pledged to south Butler County schools by Looney, with $16 million allotted to Georgiana schools and $3 million to McKenzie schools.

“To date, we’ve seen somewhere between $14 to $15 million spent in Georgiana and very little spent in McKenzie. We feel like we were used as a stepping stone and a doormat for him to move up to that new position,” Hartin said.

The county commissioner said one of the biggest problems he and others had with Looney was the decision to turn the new Georgiana K-12 School into a “so-called” magnet school, while dispensing with the city’s name in the process.

“Now, we don’t even have a school in the county with the Georgiana name on it. It has caused a lot of tension in our community, let me tell you,” said Hartin. “Personally, I thank God and U-Haul he is going.”

Jessie McWilliams, chairman of the county commissioners, said he feels Looney has done “a fine job” in the system.

“He’s been willing to work with all the elected officials in the city and county to make great things happen, and you hate to see someone like that go,” McWilliams said. “I understand they are still in contract negotiations, but it does seem like a great opportunity for him and his family. We wish him well no matter what the outcome.”

McWilliams added he was confident the school board would choose someone “who will continue to improve our system.”

“After all, they did a good job when they chose Mike Looney,” McWilliams said.

Georgiana Mayor Mike Middleton said Looney was the best thing that had happened in the county’s school system in a long while.

“In my opinion, Looney has done more for the south end of the county than anyone else in 20 years,” Middleton said. “When people complain, I tell them, ‘Look, we wouldn’t have what we have gotten without him being here.'”

Finding a replacement for Looney will not be easy, said Middleton.

“It’s going to be hard. I hope they do their homework, because there is still a lot to be done,” he said.

McLendon still holds out hope the superintendent will stay put, but says he wants the board to put just as much effort into finding Looney’s replacement as they did into finding Looney.

“They need to conduct a thorough search,” McLendon said. “Not that we don’t have capable people within the system, but we have to find the best possible replacement and I trust our board will do that.”