Clarksdale Municipal School District Trustee Sandy Stillions has formally submitted his resignation and the search has begun to find a replacement for the city school board.
Stillions was appointed a Clarksdale School Board Trustee 12 years ago by Ward 1 Commissioner Bo Plunk. Stillions’ resignation follows the resignation of longtime School Board Trustee Joan Morris, who resigned in May.
“It has been an honor and pleasure to serve my community as a member of the Clarksdale Municipal School Board for the last 12-plus years,” said Stillions in a statement. “I am convinced that I can no longer serve our district in a manner that could achieve the positive results we all want for the children of our community.
“Please accept this notice to all parties as my official resignation from the CMSD Board, effective immediately.”
Plunk said Monday he does not have anyone in mind at this time and is looking for a person to fill Stillions’ post. He urged people to contact him if they are interested.
Both Stillions and Morris are white and were the only whites on the school board.
Stillions resignation came as no surprise after Superintendent Joe Nelson was terminated by the three-member board in early May.
At the board meeting prior to Nelson’s termination Stillions said the meeting was illegal and he left the board room before the meeting started. Trustee Morris was not at that meeting and her resignation was announced by city hall at the Clarksdale Board of Mayor and Commissioner’s meeting the following Monday.
A motion to replace Morris with former trustee Delores Harris by Ward 2 Commissioner Ken Murphy and seconded by Ward 1 Commissioner Bo Plunk failed on an unprecedented 3-2 vote when Ward 3 Commissioner Willie Turner, Ward 4 Commissioner Ed Seals voted against Harris’ appointment Mayor Chuck Espy broke the tie with a no vote.
A special called meeting with only Board President Zedric Clayton, Board Vice President LaFiesta Roland and Board Secretary Manika Kemp started with a review of proposed class and school changes that had been proposed in February. Those changes, which were based on district building repair needs and declining student population numbers, were once again voted down by trustees Clayton, Roland and Kemp.
That proposal had been presented in February by Nelson and his Central Office team
On a motion by Kemp, a second by Roland and supported by Clayton the board then entered executive session for about 20 minutes to review the superintendent’s contract.
School board attorney Carlos Palmer was also not at that meeting.
Trustees re-opened the doors to the public at 6:46 p.m. and said they had taken a vote but did not make public what the action was about or how trustees voted.
“It was a contractual matter that cannot be discussed,” said Clayton.
Clayton was repeatedly asked by the Clarksdale Press Register if a vote was taken by the board.
Clayton said action was taken and the “decision will be made public, but not at this time.”
Nelson was removed from office by school security officers sometime before 2 p.m. the following Monday.
Manika Kemp was appointed to the school board in a surprise move by Ward 3 Commissioner Willie Turner to replace longtime educator and School Board President Delores Harris. LaFiesta Roland was appointed by Ward 4 Commissioner Ed Seals. Zedric Clayton was appointed by Mayor Chuck Espy.
The Clarksdale Municipal School District was most recently rated an F district by the State Accountability Board. Districts that are rated F two years in a row can face take-over by the state. Should that happen the state would appoint a conservator who has sweeping power to hire and fire employees, handle finances and work outside traditional district policy and procedure. When the state takes over, the superintendent and trustees dismissed, with trustees never allowed to serve on a school board again. Districts taken over by the state can also be consolidated with surrounding districts without local say in the matter.
Mississippi school boards are charged with four specific duties: Set the school district’s budget; raise revenues necessary to meet that budget; hire a superintendent; and set district policy.
Latoya Harrell Matthews has been named Interim Superintendent by Bishop, Roland and Kemp.
The superintendent is charged with executing the wishes of the board, managing staff through principals who in turn manage the teachers and staff of schools. Principals bring their staffing needs to the superintendent who approves them and presents them to trustees.
Board members must complete annual training from the state on policy, procedure and laws relating to law and Mississippi schools.
Board members must live in the district of the Commissioner who appointed them.
Clarksdale trustees are paid $67 per meeting, but not allowed more than 36 meetings per year. Board members are also paid for travel and expenses.
In a clause unique to Clarksdale Municipal School District, Trustees are required to spend one day each year visiting any school or schools in the district.
The Clarksdale Municipal School District Board of Trustee has its regular monthly meeting on the third Thursday of each month, at 5 p.m. at the Central Services building on Wildcat Drive. Board meetings are open to the public.
Clarksdale’s extensive and complete school board policy can be found on the district’s website.