The new superintendent preparing to take over in Hickman Mills already had enough on his plate with a school district in danger of losing accreditation.
Thursday night he witnessed more trouble.
A bitterly divided school board argued over alleged Sunshine Law violations, the potential censure of one of its members and a potential hiring that some said should be the superintendent’s job.
“It is perplexing to me,” incoming superintendent Dennis Carpenter said from the audience, “that the board of education is recommending hiring for a position.”
Board president Breman Anderson Jr., now joined by two new colleagues he backed in their election April 2, called the special meeting that resulted in votes to dismiss the district’s longtime legal counsel and hire an interim attorney. Anderson’s new majority bloc won approval, 4-3.
Anderson also prepared an agenda item to censure board member and state Rep. Bonnaye Mims, saying she should have disclosed that she had hired the district’s attorney for personal matters. A 3-3 tie vote postponed that issue.
Board member Eric Lowe argued that the censure attempt was sprung on the board and that Mims had not violated any policy or statute. Board member Dan Osman noted that Anderson had prepared an agenda item to hire a new legal counsel when the district still had an attorney, which he said suggested that some board members were planning actions in violation of the state’s Sunshine Law.
The board did back off hiring a community outreach person after Carpenter expressed his concerns.
“We need to have further dialogue and consultation with the superintendent,” board Vice President Darrell Curls said.
Throughout the meeting, Anderson cut off discussion. During public comments, former board member Teresa Edens opened by saying she was amused that board member questions were being “totally ignored.”
“Have a seat,” Anderson said. “Thank you for coming out. You can’t attack the board. Have a seat.”
What the superintendent and the schools do not need is a politically divisive board, Lowe said after the meeting. The provisionally accredited district must make steep gains to avoid falling to unaccredited when new state standards take effect in 2015.
“Here we are one year down in the three years we have to turn this district around,” he said. “Every moment we waste on digressions and violations of Sunshine Law takes away from that.”