Lowndes County School District Superintendent Lynn Wright, center, reviews material from the Mississippi School Board Association during Friday's regular board meeting. Wright's term as superintendent expires Dec. 31, when the board can vote to rehire Wright or appoint a new superintendent. Photo by: Mary Pollitz/Dispatch Staff
April 13, 2019 10:00:18 PM
Lowndes County School District's board is creeping ever closer to starting a formal search for the district's first board-appointed superintendent.
The first step is deciding whether to contract with the Mississippi School Board Association to conduct the search.
Sitting Superintendent Lynn Wright will complete his second elected four-year term on Dec. 31, after which state law requires all county superintendent positions -- which have historically been elected posts -- to become board-appointed. He intends to apply to keep his position.
During an LCSD board meeting Friday, MSBA representative Mike Waldrop presented several options for handling the superintendent search.
A full-service search, which would cost LCSD a base rate of $10,500, would give MSBA a hand in every aspect of the search -- including forming the application, advertising the job, identifying and interviewing qualified candidates from the applicants and holding stakeholder meetings with district patrons, Waldrop said. An "abbreviated" search package, a $4,700 base cost, would exclude MSBA handling interviews and stakeholder meetings. Either contract could include additional travel fees.
The district could also conduct its own search.
"Your next decision is going to have to be how you will handle this," Waldrop told board members.
The board took no action Friday, instead opting to take Waldrop's presentation under advisement and discuss the matter at a future meeting.
Waldrop said MSBA helped with more than a dozen superintendent searches last year, including helping Columbus Municipal School District hire Cherie Labat. The association is working with several county districts this year.
By law, Waldrop said, qualified superintendent applicants must have served as a principal at an A- or B-rated school (according to state accountability ratings) for three years or at a school that has risen a letter grade and maintained it for three years; served as a superintendent or assistant superintendent; or held a position of leadership for six years. The board determines which position of leadership qualifies a candidate, he added, ranging from lawyers to military personnel.
MSBA would vet each potential candidate for the district and supply the board with its options.
The district can offer a contract of up to four years, but board members questioned whether -- if they were to replace Wright rather than retain him -- they should start the new person in January 2020 or wait until the new school year begins July 1. If they took the latter option, Wright would presumably be named interim superintendent for six months to finish the 2019-20 school year.
Waldrop said most county districts conducting searches are aiming for a January start date for their appointed superintendents.
"If you want to get on your school calendar, extending your current superintendent for six months or so, we will certainly do that for you," Waldrop said. "We are dealing now with numerous counties. So far none have taken that option. We are in conversations with two districts who may take that option."
Wright's new kind of 'campaign'
First elected in 2011, Wright believes his time at LCSD's helm has built a strong enough resume for him to keep his job.
On the academic front, LCSD has an overall accountability rating -- determined primarily by students performance on end-of-year state benchmark exams -- of B, falling just a few points shy of an A.
Financially, however, the district's fund balance has plummeted since 2014 from about $17 million to an expected $4 million by June 30. Wright has consistently pointed to $75 million in building projects ($44 million of which were built with a 2015 voter-approved bond issue) the district has completed and has blamed property tax collections for falling short of projections in recent years.
Most recently, Wright proposed cutting about 60 teaching positions in the district to save money, which the board approved Friday.
"I've been thrilled to death to watch the progress that has been made in the Lowndes County School District," Wright said. "I love my job and the people that I work with. ... We are facing some challenges this year, financially, but we are going to be OK. We have grown continuously."
Three board members present Friday -- president Robert Barksdale, Jane Kilgore and Jacqueline Gray -- would not comment to The Dispatch on the superintendent search after the meeting.
Wesley Barrett, however, seems to have already made up his mind.
"Based on the data of the district, everything is going upward," he said. "I personally think, why would you change leadership when everything is going in a good direction?"
Brian Clark did not attend Friday's meeting.
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