Earlier this month we did a series of posts on K-12 education, the last one disclosing a meeting Slabbed had with Bay-Waveland School Board Trustee Mike Bell. The meeting, which included local parent volunteer Cami Cornfoot and Lana Noonan, President of the Hancock County Alliance for Good GovernmentTM dealt with the hiring of a new Superintendent of Education and the optics involving the fact the new Superintendent’s Brother was the existing business manager of the school district.
We covered a lot of ground over the ensuing two plus hours of discussing the state of the school district. I reserved judgment as I was in it for the information and I wanted to hear the School Board’s side of things. Lana on the other hand was pretty staunch in holding her position that the resulting nepotism from the hire of Vikki Landry looked awful. Simply put, Lana held Trustee Bell’s feet to the fire as they would eventually nicely agree to disagree on the subject.
To kick start things we need to re-visit Cassandra Favre’s January 27, 2017 story, BWSD may need 2 assistant superintendents, which left her readers (myself included) with the distinct impression the School District’s Central office expanded by one Assistant Superintendent solely to ameliorate the problems created by hiring the sister of the business manager as the Superintendent. Trustee Bell took issue with that characterization saying the addition of the second Assistant Superintendent was a discreet event that was not done to solve the nepotism problem involving Landry but rather involved a more sweeping reorganization of the business office in a move that cut the amount of local funds spent on Administration.
First what I found strange was both the before and after job description matrices we were presented showed the business manager answering organizationally to one of the Assistant Superintendents, a setup I had never seen in my 20 plus years auditing and consulting with Mississippi K-12s. Every other school district that I have first hand knowledge had the School Business manager answering directly to the Superintendent which makes sense given the job responsibilities handled by the School Business Office. The “before reorganization chart” was thus strange for lack of a better term because the arrangement would have had the Business Manager answering to his sister when she was Assistant Superintendent. Turns out that was not the case but before I get to that let’s visit with Kate Royals at Mississippi Today:
A bill removing a provision in the law allowing school districts to hire relatives of the district’s superintendents and principals passed the Senate on Wednesday.
State law defines a relative as a spouse, child, sibling or parent. The bill would, however, put in place a process for spouses of superintendents to be hired.
This bill was sponsored by Sen. Grey Tollison at the request of the Mississippi Ethics Commission.
Now if one were to get the impression that the Bay-Waveland School Board leaped before looking and then engaged in some CYA by reorganizing the Central Office after creating an ethics conflict of interest, such would be a natural conclusion and one I think an accurate depiction of the events, especially after the Mississippi Ethics Commission released yesterday advisory opinion 17-004-E (click the picture below to obtain the 4 page PDF opinion):
And the problem with the central office job description matrices we were given comes into sharper focus on page three of the opinion:
At present, the district employs the new Superintendent’s brother as a Licensed School Business Administrator, a position that has historically reported directly to the Superintendent. As Assistant Superintendent and Licensed School Business Administrator, the two avoided a conflict of interest by her not directly supervising him as it relates to financial matters in the district.
This much is clear, Cassandra Favre quoted School Board President Maurice Singleton as saying the Board could not agree on a pick for Superintendent out of the final four candidates, an assertion that Bell confirmed by telling Slabbed that three of the final candidates enjoyed the support of no more than one school board trustee with two trustees uncommitted to any of the final four superintendent candidates. Bell also strongly implied that the Board’s hand had been forced by events outside of their control and the best way to resolve the problems caused by those undisclosed events was by elevating Landry to the Superintendent’s position for 18 months.
The problem I see is solving one problem created another and now the Bay-Waveland School District’s business manager is evidently now time limited in his position per that ethics opinion.
As hard as a good superintendent is to find and hire, the BWSD will find that hiring a qualified, experienced business manager is about as hard a task.
File this one under the old Nowdy saying that in Mississippi, “if it weren’t for a conflict of interest some would have no interest at all.” The next school board meeting ought to be good.