School board chooses search firm, asks for audit

April 25, 2014 10:33:22 AM

Sarah Fowler - [email protected]


The Columbus Municipal School Board voted to ask the Mississippi Department of Education to conduct an audit of the district and selected a search firm to conduct a search for a permanent schools superintendent during a specially called meeting Thursday. 


The board voted 3-2 to hire Ray and Associates, an Iowa-based company, for a fee of $13,500. Board members Jason Spears, Glenn Lautzenhiser and Greg Lewis voted in favor. Board members Currie Fisher and Angela Verdell, the board president, were opposed. 


The search for a new superintendent will begin immediately. 


Spears, the former board president, made a motion to ask the Mississippi Department of Education to come in and conduct an audit of the school board, including their policies and their actions. Lewis asked if Spears' motion could be amended to add a financial audit as well. Spears said it was his understanding that when MDE conducted an audit of the board, they also audited how the board handled the district's finances. 


The motion passed 3-2 with Spears, Lautzenhiser and Lewis in favor and Verdell and Fisher opposed. 


Interim superintendent Edna McGill has served as head of the district since June 2013 after superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell was removed from her post after it was revealed that she used district funds to pay for a private party and continued to do consulting work in violation of her contract. McGill, who retired as an assistant superintendent from the county school district, has repeatedly said that she is not interested in serving as the permanent superintendent.  


The board voted to hire Ray and Associates over the Mississippi School Board Association and Illinois-based company Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates. 


The MSBA would have charged the district $9,500. Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates would have cost $18,000. Ray and Associates and the MSBA each proposed a six-week timeline to accept applications for a superintendent. Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates recommended a two-week application period. 


Spears, who made the motion to hire Ray and Associates, said he felt Ray and Associates was the better choice over company Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates based on their multiple searches for superintendents in the state of Mississippi. 


Spears said when he researched both firms, he found Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates had not conducted a superintendent search in the state for at least 10 years. Spears added that he did not consider MSBA because he felt he and the board wanted to do a nationwide search for the superintendent position. MSBA would have only search for applicants in the state of Mississippi.  


Lautzenhiser said he supported Ray and Associates for the same reason as Spears, noting that during the presentation, Dr. Louise Coleman with Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates could not recall an exact time her company had conducted a search in Mississippi. 


Verdell said she was opposed to Spears' motion because during her research of both firms, she found Ray and Associates had been cited in two separate instances for not revealing negative information about potential candidates. 


Speaking of Ray and Associates, Verdell said, "If not for that, they would have had my vote, too." 


During a review of the contract with Ray and Associates, the board stipulated that the company could not submit the chosen superintendent's resume to another district for five years. In 2011, Ray and Associates approached then-Columbus schools superintendent Dr. Del Phillips about an open position in Tennessee. 


The board then spent approximately 45 minutes discussing how to have shorter meetings. They went line by line through a mock agenda and put time limits on most matters. The limits the board put on discussions vary. 


The next board meeting is scheduled for May 12.

Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.