State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright told reporters last week the department has become increasingly dependent on contract workers due to a lack of funding from the state.
State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright told reporters last week the department has become increasingly dependent on contract workers due to a lack of funding from the state.

The state Department of Education is paying a private investigator nearly $16,000 for 38 days of work to supplement the work of a full time state employee, Mississippi Today has learned.

The revelation comes amid complaints from Gov. Phil Bryant and other state officials about excessive spending by the department during the tenure of Education Superintendent Carey Wright. Recent media reports have described inflated contracts awarded by the department to friends of Wright and other administrators and employees.

The contract with J. Chad Callender calls for him to investigate allegations of educator misconduct, appear as an expert witness at hearings before the state licensure commission and prepare and serve subpoenas, among other duties.

Holley Haywood is listed on the education department’s website as the investigator for the Office of Educator Misconduct, a position performing the tasks Callender has been hired to perform.

“J. Chad Callender was hired to supplement, not supplant, work around new misconduct cases, pending misconduct cases, and the Clarksdale investigation,” Education Department spokeswoman Jean Cook said in an email. “The MDE did not lose employees who did this work.” The Clarksdale case involved principals and teachers at Heidelberg Elementary School who were accused of cheating on state achievement tests.

Cook provided no other details about why it was necessary to hire a contractor to do the work.

The rate of pay was established by Callender and agreed to by the department, Cook said. The Education Department did not seek quotes from other contract workers for the services assigned to Callender, she said.

The contract also provides more than $800 to Callender, a former administrator at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, specifically to cover what would be the department’s matching contribution for Social Security and Medicare if he were a full time employee. All state agencies pay FICA for contract workers, said Chuck McIntosh, director of communications for the state Department of Finance and Administration.

The licensure commission, among other duties, hears cases involving educator misconduct and makes decision about those educators’ licenses depending on the outcome.

The contract specifies Callender will be paid an amount not to exceed $11,400, or $300/day, plus $4,500 for travel for work done between May 16 and June 30 of this year. An additional $872.10 is listed as “MDE’s matching contribution for Social Security and Medicaid (FICA).” If extended over a year, that rate of pay would total $78,000.

Haywood’s salary is around $54,000 as of May.

When reached by phone on Tuesday and asked how he determined his rate of pay for the work, Callender said he would have to call the reporter back. He did not return the call that afternoon.

The department had 10 public hearings scheduled between May 13 and June 21, dates included in Callender’s contract. Minutes of those meetings are not available yet on the commission’s website, so it cannot be determined whether Callender participated in those sessions. The licensure commission took action on six cases, continued three and one is still ongoing. It has 18 more hearings scheduled for July.

State education superintendent Carey Wright said because of the current political climate and budget situation, the agency is forced to contract with workers instead of hiring the service in-house.

“You don’t want to rely on contractors, that’s not good practice over a 10-year period of time,” Wright said last week to reporters asking about large contracts awarded to companies with ties to her former coworkers in Maryland.

“You want to bring the skill set in house, but what hampers it is when we got cut all those pins (positions) and money last year, it limits the ability to bring people in that you need … We don’t have the number of bodies, so you’ve got to hire outside talent,” she said.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.