NP Conservator Meeting

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 24, 2012

Former NP trustee questions meet time

By Billy Davis

North Panola conservator Robert King refused to quarrel with now-former school board member Verna Hunter Tuesday night and advised her to meet with him privately over school matters.  

Hunter appeared as a visitor at the August 20 meeting in Sardis, where she was recognized to speak during public comments.

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Hunter asked if King would continue to hold the school district meetings at 5 p.m., apparently implying the time was inconvenient for the public. She acknowledged she had broached the topic before and was bringing it up again.

King replied that other school boards hold meetings at noon and at 8 p.m.

Hunter and other school board members lost their titles in May, when a new state law went into effect that disbanded school boards in school districts under state control.

Conservators answer to the Mississippi Department of Education and have complete authority over daily operations of state-controlled districts. But King appeared to relinquish some control at North Panola, where Hunter and others conducted business with King seated to the side.

After the state law took effect, King now operates an awkward one-man meeting which only one former trustee, Hunter, has persisted in attending.  

Former Gov. Haley Barbour declared a “state of emergency” at North Panola in April 2008, which set in motion the state takeover.

Students’ rock-bottom state test scores, and 32 of 37 standards that failed to meet state accreditation requirements, were cited as reasons for the takeover.

After King answered the question about meeting times, he cut off further discussion about other topics.

“There’s no need for any more interaction,” he told Hunter, suggesting that she meet with him in his office to discuss other matters.

Still, the questioning persisted. King was asked why the school district purchased four new school buses with no air conditioning.

The buses had to be ordered quickly in order to replace aging buses, including some that are 15 years old and barely running, King said.

An order for air-conditioned buses would have taken until at least November to fill, he further explained.

“In the future we will try to get air conditioning,” he said.

Hunter also asked the status of Senate Bill 2737, the state legislation that set in motion the disbanding of some public school boards.

Before a school board returns, North Panola’s accreditation deficiencies must be corrected and cleared by the Mississippi Department of Education, King advised.

“At that point we can start reconstituting a new board,” King said, which will include new elections for the five seats, he added.  

The school board will then appoint a new superintendent, whose hiring must be approved by the Department of Education, he said.  

An accreditation team from the Mississippi Department of Education will be in the district in coming weeks to review five standards that were deficient, King said.

King began the school board meeting with a positive report, announcing that a recent visit by an accreditation team cleared several items on its checklist.