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School board denies request to transport to Kings center

[12/10/04]School buses will not ferry students to special programs at Kings Community Center under a vote of the Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees Thursday night.

Citing District 3 Trustee Betty Tolliver’s work at the center, the vote was three nays with Tolliver abstaining.

“We rejected the motion on the advice of the school board attorney because there was a conflict of interest,” said Superintendent James Price.

The City of Vicksburg funds programs at Kings for students who are expelled or suspended from classes. The idea is to provide those students a place to go and receive counseling and other assistance and keep them from being idle.

The city had asked the schools to provide transportation from designated points, but Price said another questionable issue is whether, since the students are banned from school property, they are eligible to use buses.

The focus, however, was the employment of Tolliver, a licensed social worker, at the center. State ethics rules set standards against conflicts. For example, no school trustee or the spouse of a trustee may be employed by the district or receive benefits from a contract with the district.

“I don’t vote for anything to do with that,” said Tolliver, who said she helps out at Kings when the director cannot be there. As for the conflict, “This was researched when I came on the board, and if there is a conflict of interest, the board attorney should have informed me.”

The center is a former elementary school on North Washington Street that reopened its doors in 1990 and partners the city, public schools and the Warren County Youth Court. Students who misbehave or who are suspended or expelled can be sent to the center through the court. The program was set up by North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young.

An opinion from the Mississippi Ethics Commission, dated a month after Tolliver took office in 2003 states that a complete recusal requires that the board member must leave the room or area where discussion, considerations and actions take place.

Tolliver did not leave the room for the vote, which was made with no discussion.

“She did abstain from the vote,” said District 4 Trustee Jan Daigre. “But she did not leave the room.”

Scott Rankin, executive director of the commission, said Tolliver’s abstention does not violate state law. “This would not lead to a violation because it would not lead to a pecuniary benefit and because the request was rejected,” he said. “An abstention is a vote, that’s why we recommend total recusal.”

In the November meeting, District 2 Trustee Zelmarine Murphy suggested having another meeting to discuss issues that involved the board’s goals, district employment and how the district is improving. Murphy was not present Thursday, and that discussion was dropped.