Talbot Huff resigns school board seat

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By John Barnhart

    District 2 School Board Member Talbot Huff had a surprise for his fellow county school board members Thursday night.

    “I could not support putting in a superintendent who had no management experience or has never been principal of a high school,” Huff said, before handing in a written resignation.

    Huff added that this was also a vote of no confidence in School Board Chairman Gary Hostutler. Huff said that Hostutler unilaterally handled the hiring of the new superintendent and informed the school board by e-mail.

    Huff left the meeting immediately after handing in his resignation and before a vote was taken on the new superintendent. The school board voted to hire Dr. Douglas R. Schuch with School Board Members Joy Wright, Mickey VanDerwerker, David Black, and Debbie Hoback voting in favor. District 6 School Board Member Shirley McCabe cast the lone dissenting vote. District 5 School Board Member Julie Benninton was absent.

    Huff, who has represented District 2 since 2002 was up for reelection this fall and the school board will appoint someone to fill that seat pending the election. McCabe was selected to take Huff’s place on the school board’s construction committee.

    “I want to thank Mr. Huff for all his work over the years,” commented Black after the meeting.

    “I certainly appreciated his wisdom and wit,” added Hoback.

    “District 2 will have a hard time replacing him,” said McCabe.

    “Bedford County will miss him and so will I,” said Wright.

    “I’d also like to thank Mr. Huff for all his years of service,” said Hostutler.

    “I was a little taken aback by his comments and his attacks on me,” Hostutler added.

    Hostutler said that Huff had never talked to him about this.

    Huff said, in a phone interview, that being superintendent of a school division the size of Bedford County’s is a tough job. Huff said that he has run division of a large company and understands the risks of going to the top without experience. He was responsible for 2,500 employees. Bedford County Public Schools has 7,500 employees.

    “You have to manage the people who manage,” Huff said.

    Huff believes that someone needs to have been a principal before stepping into a role where he will manage principals.

    He said that he did not tell fellow board members he was going to resign. He did it because he felt his opposition to hiring Dr. Schuch was too strong and the new superintendent will need the school board’s full support.

    Concerning his criticism of Hostutler, Huff said, “He basically negotiated with people, then sent e-mails asking if we had any objections.”

    Huff said that this should have been discussed with school board members.

    He also said that during the Jefferson Forest High School (JFHS) renovation, Hostutler tried to give orders to J.E. Jamerson & Sons, the company heading the consortium that did the work. Huff said Jamerson insisted on going through Dr. James Blevins, the superintendent of schools. An unscrupulous contractor, said Huff, could have taken advantage of this.

    “I sent e-mail every day during the negotiations,” said Hostutler.

    Hostutler also said he physically gave a copy of the contract to each school board member.

    “He [Huff] never mentioned that he was not going to be available,” Hostutler said, stating that Huff had not said that he was going out of town.

    “That’s why I was surprised,” Hostutler said.

    Hostutler also denied attempting to give orders to Jamerson during the JFHS renovation.

    “I never ordered changes,” Hostutler said. “I don’t have that authority.”

    Commenting on Dr. Schuch’s experience, Hostutler said that he [Schuch] commanded 160 people during Operation Desert Storm and is a really dynamic person.

    “He’s had a really great track record in Stafford County,” Hostutler said.

    Hostutler said that the majority of the school board felt that the fact that Schuch has not served as a school principal was not a problem.

    “Obviously Mr. Huff did not agree with that decision and chose to resign,” Hostutler said. “I think we were all surprised, as a board, that he took that avenue.”