Vacancies come at tough time for JPS board

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Kayleigh Skinner, Mississippi Today

Jackson Public Schools Board members and staff at Tuesday’s meeting.

 

As the Jackson Public School District works to correct issues highlighted by the state or risk losing its accreditation, the district’s Board of Trustees is shrinking to the bare minimum number of members required to operate as a board.

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JPS Board of Trustees member Kodi Hobbs

• JPS spokesperson Sherwin Johnson said Tuesday that member Kodi Hobbs submitted a letter of resignation, effective June 15.

• Last month, board president Beneta Burt announced that Kimberly Campbell was resigning from the board, effective May 30.

• Burt’s term expires June 30.

In May, Campbell told Mississippi Today she felt it was best to resign because her current position as state director of AARP requires her to travel frequently. Efforts to reach Hobbs on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

The resignations, combined with Burt’s term ending on June 30, mean the JPS Board of Trustees at that point will have the bare minimum of four members required to establish a quorum at meetings.

Jackson Mayor-elect Chokwe Antar Lumumba is responsible for appointing members to the school board. Lumumba said he is working on filling the three empty spots on the board, but does not take office until July and cannot make appointments until then. Once the mayor appoints a school board member, the city council must confirm the candidate. Board members serve five-year terms.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Burt called upon her colleagues to suspend the rules and elect new officers — president, vice president, and secretary — for the upcoming school year.

Although the process was not listed as an item on the board meeting agenda, Burt used the portion of the meeting designated for addressing “other business” to bring the option of selecting new officers before the board.

During the meeting, member Jed Oppenheim said he was taken aback by the announcement and suggested the board wait until the next meeting in two weeks to make a decision so that members could digest the information.

When that option was dismissed, Oppenheim made a motion to suspend the rules only until the mayor appoints new members, meaning officers would be re-selected once the board is full again. The motion failed, and the board moved on to a nominations process for its new officers.

Burt told Mississippi Today she wanted to the board to select new officers Tuesday, instead of waiting for the next board meeting, to make sure new leadership was in place as soon as possible because of “where we are organizationally in terms of our corrective action plan, and the need for there to be a consistent leadership through the summer months on into the new school year.”

For months, JPS officials and employees have worked on the district’s corrective action plan, launched in response to an investigative audit by the Mississippi Department of Education. That audit last year found Jackson Public Schools in violation of 22 of the 32 state accreditation benchmarks. The board itself plays a role in the plan — the audit found that board policies are applied inconsistently, among other issues.

And the board was told in a personal appearance by State Education Superintendent Carey Wright that the district faced a potential state takeover if it did not begin taking serious action to address the accreditation shortcomings.

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JPS Board President Beneta Burt

At the board meeting Tuesday, Burt asked her colleagues to go forward with a nomination process so that the board could have continued communication with the superintendent going into the next school year. Although Burt debated with Oppenheim during the meeting whether it was an appropriate time to select board leadership, she said disagreements are not uncommon because the board is filled with “strong personalities.”

“I think at the end of the day after discussions have been held we vote, and then everybody gets behind that vote,” she said.”But clearly there ought to be tough discussions of any issues because we are looking out for our school district and our children.”

The remaining members are serving staggered terms. Johnson said new board president Richard Lind and new vice president Camille Stutts-Simms will serve until June 2019; Oppenheim will serve until June 2018; Rickey Jones, now secretary, will serve until March 2020.