Rupert Howell 4/9/13

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Kick us out, but we will keep coming back

Sometimes the predictability of this job causes one to add an extra dimension to see how others who are involved will react.

I was not surprised that trustees closed the meeting and shooed me out of the room last week when they were presented applications of eight prospective candidates who want to lead South Panola School District as its superintendent.

Covering the school board for most of the past 40 years with six superintendents, I’ve become somewhat of a board historian when it comes to anecdotes and trivia concerning our school trustees and their history.

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So when Interim Superintendent Mike Foster called to remind me of the special meeting it came with the usual warning prior to superintendent hirings, “They will probably go into executive session,” meaning I would be asked to leave when applicants were discussed.

Trustees have contracted the services of Mississippi School Board Association Executive Director Dr. Mike Waldrop  and his organization to conduct a search for qualified applicants to fill the position vacated by the retirement of Dr. Keith Shaffer.

I entered the board room and recognized the usual occupants as well as Dr. Waldrop and his able assistant Dr. Harold Fisher who conducted three meetings with staff and citizens prior to the application process.

Reintroducing myself to Dr. Fisher, I was sure to tell him I was from the local newspaper and saw an immediate look that didn’t correspond with “glad to see you.”

Taking a seat next to the board’s attorney while Fisher communicated with his executive director, I then noticed the executive director making his way toward the board’s president at the head of the table with an anxious look on his face.

Those who have seen silent movie clips can imagine what I was witnessing when the MSBA representative was talking in the trustee president’s ear while both stared toward me at the end of the table. Again, it was like a silent movie where the actors are required to overreact to get their messages across for those who can’t read sub-titles.

The trustee president then asked how I was doing to which I replied (with a little over acting on my part) that I was fine and there was no other place in the whole world that I would rather be than sitting right there at that table.

“Well, we’re fixing to kick you out,” she said while the interim superintendent cackled in the background.
And they did.

But it’s okay. Mississippi law allows boards to close the doors in a few situations and one of those is certain types of personnel issues.

I’m sure Dr. Waldrop assured applicants that their names would be held in strict confidentiality during the application process—at least until finalists were selected. The applicant pool would certainly be fewer if an applicant’s current employer was able to know their employee was eyeing greener pastures. Good applicants may be lost without that confidentiality.

Hiring a superintendent is the single most important act that a school board does. Other than setting policy, the vast majority of the trustees’ function, is approving or disapproving recommendations of that superintendent.

When we attend public meetings, our reporters, including me, represent thousands of readers, most of them local citizens and taxpayers. We don’t take that job lightly.

And we will continue to go to these public meetings even when we’ve got something else we need to do and even when we know we’re going to get “kicked out.”