Interim Superintendent Freddrick Murray, school district attorney JoAnne Shepherd and school board attorney Dorian Turner listen in at a board work session on Monday afternoon.

The Jackson Public School District has completed nearly 90 percent of the actions the district needed to take following a scathing state audit, but the district still has more work to do to fix its schools.

The state placed the district on probationary status last year after an audit of the district’s compliance with several state standards showed a number of violations. Those violations ranged from school buildings with missing fire extinguishers and smoke detectors to classrooms with no teachers.

JPS officials hired Bailey Education Group earlier this year to help the district fix its issues. Ann Moore, Bailey’s education advisor, told JPS school board members on Monday the district has completed 88 percent of the actions in the Corrective Action Plan, or CAP, to date. In addition, the district’s violations of one accreditation standard has been cleared by the Mississippi Department of Education.

However, issues regarding employing enough qualified teachers, getting students to school on time and maintaining and reporting accurate data remain.

Interim Superintendent Freddrick Murray announced the district recently ordered 44 new buses and hired 30 new drivers to help get students to school on time, a concern raised in the audit. He also said bus drivers’ pay for next year will be raised to $14.15 per hour, up from a scale that ranged from $8 or $9 per hour at minimum.

He said despite those actions, however, the true test will come in August when school starts.

School bus drivers rally, put their road skills to the test

“With the $4 million of buying new buses, recruiting of bus drivers, still the buses have to be on time,” he said. “That’s the bar we’re looking at.”

Moore emphasized that continued monitoring of the transportation situation will be necessary.

“This is one you’ll have to monitor every week,” she said. “You have to make sure there are no interruptions in arrival of those buses. And you may have 30 new drivers sign up today but may have 15 more resign before August 1, so this is going to have to be monitored very, very closely.”

The school district also recently approved a new position for every middle and high school. The position, called an attendance counselor, will ensure the accuracy of the student attendance data reported to the Mississippi Department of Education each month, according to district officials.

“So instead of having anywhere from two to three people dealing with these data sets now, we’ll have one (person) whose primary function is to enter that data into the system and monitor it,” Jason Sargent, the district’s chief of staff of accountability and research, said.

Moore said, however, there are “still some issues of consistently getting the data reported correctly. So that’s going to be an ongoing process for training personnel and oversight of data.”

Pat Ross, Bailey’s director of leadership development and the former deputy state superintendent at the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), told school board members MDE will issue a report within 30 days of completing the investigative audit, which is ongoing.

The State Board of Education ordered a full audit of the district be done after hearing the findings from the limited audit that took place last year.

Ross also informed school board members the Department recently issued a preliminary report of findings regarding citations in the district’s special education department.

After hearing Bailey’s presentation, the school board later approved extending the $95,900 contract with the firm until the end of August at no additional cost.

Contributing: Kayleigh Skinner

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the state’s audit of Jackson Public Schools is ongoing. A previous version misstated that the audit is complete.


Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

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.