Swinford suspended for using vehicle

Published 11:44 am Friday, September 7, 2012

The superintendent of the Vicksburg Warren School District was suspended Thursday for inappropriate use of district property, she confirmed this morning.

Dr. Elizabeth Swinford, in her second year as superintendent of the nearly 9,000-student district, is suspended for three days without pay beginning Monday, District 1 trustee and board president Bryan Pratt said, following a two-hour, special meeting of the Board of Trustees, the majority of which was in an executive session closed to the public.

“It’s a personnel issue and we’re really not able to discuss it,” Pratt said. “The matter is still under investigation, so at this time, it would be inappropriate to make further comment.”

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

His announcement following the executive session said the board is “demanding restitution in an amount yet to be determined.”

Swinford, whose annual pay is $125,000, confirmed this morning that the suspension stemmed from her use of a district truck last week for a move to a new residence.

Swinford said she followed an existing practice that has allowed personnel to “check out” district property.

“I followed the procedures that in the past that employees had used for checking out property,” Swinford said. “I properly signed it out, used it and signed it back in, but that procedure should have never existed. It is illegal for folks to use district property for a personal reason.

“It’s the first time I checked out anything, but I just wasn’t aware that it was against the law,” Swinford added.

In an email statement this morning, Swinford said her use of the truck had been seen by “an active and involved community which was able to report it to the proper governing bodies.”

The vote to suspend Swinford was 4-1, with District 3 Trustee Jim Stirgus Jr., voting against it.

Only Pratt and District 2’s Zelmarine Murphy were at the meeting, along with board attorney Briggs Hopson III. The three other board members — Stirgus, District 4’s Joe Loviza and District 5’s Sally Bullard — participated and voted in a conference telephone call.

In a monthly meeting Tuesday night, Stirgus cast the only vote against a Swinford plan to hire two women for newly created district public relations posts, questioning the administration’s spending in tight economic times.

This morning, Swinford faulted herself for not knowing the state law that prevents personal use of district property.

“At the end of the day, I’m the leader and I’m the one who has to find out,” said Swinford, who most recently was employed in a Baton Rouge school district. “We’ve been discovering what is wrong and what is right and fixing it. Instead of discovering it, I stumbled upon it and I will make sure it’s fixed going forward.

“I hope this community, number one, is able to forgive a mistake,” Swinford said. “I’m very embarrassed and apologetic, not knowing what I was doing was wrong. This district has too much to celebrate to be obscured by a mistake by its leaders. It’s a stumble along the way, but we are going to pick up the pieces and move on.”

Tom Chain of the State Auditor’s Office said this morning that the use of district property would be considered “a donation” by the district, which is against state law.

Though Pratt declined comment on the suspension, he said the board is pleased with the progress made by the district over the past two years.

“There are a lot of exciting things going on,” he said. “We are going in the right direction. We have a very hardworking and devoted group of teachers and administrators. We are all about continuing to grow on the advances we have made in our test scores.”