Council Members: We did not cross a line on TPSD issue

TUPELO – The City Council’s call last week for the resignations of two top Tupelo Public School District officials worries some former school board members who said it sets a bad precedent.
But council members, who meet again today at a work session at City Hall, defended their actions as an extraordinary measure they hope never to repeat.
If they do repeat it, said Mississippi Board of Education member Claude Hartley of Tupelo, the state could get involved.
“In general, councilmen involvement into the internal affairs of any school system could lead to an accreditation review,” said Hartley, who previously served on the Tupelo school board. “Your council in its wisdom can do as it pleases; however, they are getting close to a thin line that could be termed interference from a political body into the educational system. However, they are not there yet, but it is something they should consider in the future.”
Council President Fred Pitts said the city’s governing body has no intention of trying to run the school district. But he said council members received dozens – if not hundreds – of messages from parents and teachers begging for help.
He also said the effects of the school district’s decline, whether real or perceived, started affecting city business.
“We know what our limitations are, but when citizens of Tupelo start pulling their kids out of the school, teachers by the masses threatened to leave the school and people start moving out of the city of Tupelo, all this affects the tax base in Tupelo,” Pitts said.
“When it starts affecting the tax base in Tupelo, that makes it an issue that we have to be concerned about.”
The council had announced April 4 it would draft a resolution asking Superintendent Randy Shaver and Assistant Superintendent Fred Hill to step down after numerous complaints about their leadership and the district’s decline.
Before the council could read the resolution at 6 p.m. the next day, Shaver had told the district’s school board he wanted to terminate his contract. He and the board now are in negotiations for an early buyout. Shaver originally was supposed to stay until at least 2013.
“I am very disappointed from a public relations standpoint about how all of this has been handled,” said Doyce Deas, who previously served both on the City Council and the school board. “This is a huge mistake that the council has made to say they have no confidence in Shaver. That’s not the way to solve these problems. More than ever, the school district needs the support of this community.”
But council members said they were forced into that position after attempts to communicate their concerns to the school board were unsuccessful.
“I don’t want to run the schools, but I want to get a school board that has a good plan, that communicates well and has the parents’ and students’ interests at heart,” said Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington. “Somebody needs to step up and say, ‘Something is wrong guys, and if you’re not willing to open the dialogue and work with us, then the council has the right as an elected body to take a stand.’”
School Board President Amy Heyer didn’t directly answer questions about whether the council crossed a line with its calls for resignations. She did, however, say that open dialogue between the entities is important and looks forward to future meetings.
“The City Council has to run the city and we have to run the schools,” Heyer said. “Those are two very important jobs. We are trying to take care of our responsibility. One of the real positive things going on right now, is we have a lot of good community involvement.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com. Education reporter Chris Kieffer contributed to this story. Contact him at can be reached at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@journalinc.com

Emily LeCoz/NEMS Daily Journal