Community Southern Indiana

New Albany Floyd County Schools’ former superintendent has shared details about his abrupt exit from the district, saying a poor relationship with board members was a factor.

The NAFCS board announced Brad Snyder’s retirement at their July 1 meeting. Until now, neither the board nor Snyder had publicly discussed the circumstances surrounding his departure.

“Our current situation, we have a number of board members who have very strong personalities, very dominant personalities,” Snyder told WFPL News on Tuesday. “And across time, when policy matters and different things didn’t go their way, that builds up and adds up. And we just got to a point where there was much more competition than cooperation going on.”

Snyder joined NAFCS in 1993, becoming deputy superintendent in 2000. After his predecessor, Bruce Hibbard, left in 2017, Snyder took over as superintendent.

That nearly 30-year career with the district came to a quick halt last month. Snyder said negotiations to finalize a separation agreement with the board lasted about three weeks.

“The board expressed the desire to go in a different direction, and I don’t want to be anywhere where I’m not wanted,” he said. “We just created a solution that we could amicably go our own different directions. It wasn’t exactly the way that I would have preferred, but sometimes things just don’t work out.”

NAFCS board secretary Elizabeth Galligan, however, told WFPL News that Snyder made the decision to retire. She did not elaborate on what board members discussed at executive sessions during that process.

“It wasn’t that we wanted to move on,” she said. “Brad [Snyder] retired. So I mean, I support somebody who wants to retire. I can’t really not support that. So that’s really what led to it.”

At the beginning of his tenure, Snyder said the board did a “nice job of staying in their lane and letting the administration administer.” But he said that changed over time.

Though Snyder did not name any specific board members, he said some longtime members began to shift their focus from district-wide policy issues to day-to-day operations, including personnel and other matters that Snyder said weren’t within the board’s purview.

Snyder said that created a situation where there were “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

“There’s different recipes, and it just becomes dysfunctional,” he said. “And I think that’s the situation we ended up with. Anybody who watched our last six months of school board meetings could see it was there on full display.”

The NAFCS board used to comprise five appointed members. It’s since expanded to seven members who are elected by local voters.

That change has caused the board to become increasingly politicized, Snyder said. He expressed concerns about the issue worsening, not just locally, but across the state and country. Indiana lawmakers attempted to pass a bill earlier this year that would have made school board elections partisan, something Snyder opposed.

He said advancements in technology, such as livestreams of meetings, have also contributed to the problem.

“You get people playing to the camera, saying things and exhibiting behaviors for the next election,” Snyder said. “And that just kind of flies in the face of the reason why we’re there: students, staff and that kind of thing. Because at the end of the day to keep the seat, you’ve got to win at the ballot box.”

Secretary Galligan disagreed with that view.

“That’s his opinion, and he’s certainly entitled to it,” she said. “I think every board member takes their service seriously and endeavors to do the very best job they can. Everybody’s got their own way of serving. But I think everybody serves with the heart for kids, and they all want what’s best for our staff, our students and our community.”

Former superintendent Hibbard, Snyder’s predecessor, also had a rocky relationship with the board toward the end of his tenure. Months before Hibbard left to lead an Indianapolis-area school district in 2017, board members unanimously voted to remove a clause that would’ve automatically renewed his contract with NAFCS.

The decision stirred controversy at the time and prompted some school officials to speak out in support of Hibbard at a board meeting.

“Sometimes bad things happen to good people,” Snyder said. “I mean, it happens all the time. It happened to Bruce [Hibbard], it happened to me, and it’s going to happen to the next person, unless there’s change.”

Last week, board members appointed assistant superintendent Bill Briscoe to temporarily replace Snyder while they look for an interim superintendent. Briscoe was supposed to retire last Friday.

NAFCS board president Elaine Murphy and vice president Jenny Higbie did not immediately respond to interview requests.

John Boyle is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. John’s coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County, Community Foundation of Southern Indiana and Samtec, Inc.

John Boyle is a reporter and editor at WFPL news focused on Southern Indiana. He is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.