School board denies Swinford 2nd time on operations pick

Published 11:29 am Friday, June 29, 2012

Two key administrative positions in the Vicksburg Warren School District will remain vacant when school reopens Aug. 6, the superintendent said Thursday night, after trustees declined to appoint for the second month in a row her choice for assistant superintendent for operations.

Dr. Elizabeth Swinford recommended 30-year VWSD veteran Lum Wright Jr., the district’s athletic director for almost two decades and a teacher and assistant principal before filling that role. Wright was a candidate to replace Debra Hullum, who retires this week.

Swinford also had planned for the operations head to select a director of transportation to replace the retiring David Keen.

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Following their regular business meeting, trustees discussed Wright’s “job performance and character” in a 45-minute closed session, after which they reconvened and, in a 4-0 vote, approved a list of appointments after removing Wright’s name from the slate. District 5 Trustee Sally Bullard did not attend the meeting.

In May, board members declined to approve Swinford’s recommendation of Vicksburg Junior High School principal Dr. Michael Winters for the job.

“We’ll start school without an assistant superintendent of operations and without a director of transportation,” a visibly frustrated Swinford said following the meeting. “I will not be posting the position again. I have brought two candidates before the board and I feel they were very well-qualified to perform the duties. At this point in time, I will not be bringing another candidate before this board.”

Neither Swinford nor District 1 Trustee and board President Bryan Pratt would comment on the trustees’ discussion or their objections to the appointment.

“I feel it’s a very important position and we need to have the right person in that position,” Pratt said after the meeting. “We feel confident that Dr. Swinford will provide us with a candidate that we can approve.”

Wright did not apply when the job was initially posted, Swinford said. “Six or seven” candidates were interviewed before Winters was recommended. The board declined his appointment in a split vote May 31.

After the job was readvertised, 19 people applied and 16 candidates were interviewed, with Wright being her choice, Swinford said.

At the May meeting, trustees also shot down Swinford’s choice to promote transportation office veteran Fred Barnum to manage the district’s busing. The position was reposted but Swinford did not make another recommendation Thursday night.

“First I want to select an assistant superintendent to oversee that and allow that person to select their staff,” she said before the start of Thursday’s meeting.

Keen has agreed to come back and help in the department for a short period of time, she said, but who will handle operations remains unclear.

“I do not know who will perform (those duties), as my entire staff is overworked as it is,” Swinford said.

In other business, the board unanimously passed, with little comment, Swinford’s proposed 2012-13 budget, which anticipates revenues totaling $76,878,022 and expenditures of $84,835,040.

The difference, about $7.9 million, will be covered by reserve funds that will carry over into the new fiscal year, which begins Monday for the schools.

Finance director Dale McClung estimates the district will begin the year with nearly $11 million in reserve.

The budget includes funds to hire five additional school resource officers to help provide security at the two high schools, two junior high schools and alternative school. The district currently employs three SROs.

Among the certified staff appointments approved by the board were former District 1 Trustee Jerry Boland, who will be a school-to-career transition teacher in the district’s vocational program, pending the receipt of an “expert citizen” license from the state; and Swinford’s daughter, Yanessa Santiago, who will be a science teacher at Warren Central High School. Santiago is licensed by the state of Louisiana, with which Mississippi has a reciprocity agreement.

All certified staff appointments approved Thursday night were recommended by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Paula Johnson, not Swinford.

Swinford said her plan to propose a new, districtwide classroom management plan was not ready to present to trustees and will probably be introduced at their next business meeting, July 19.

Bullard did not attend because of illness, Pratt said.