Education board down one unless speaker acts

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The nine-member state Board of Education will be functioning minus one member after this week’s meetings unless Speaker Philip Gunn acts to fill the vacancy.
The Board’s meetings Thursday and today will mark the end of Martha “Jackie” Murphy’s tenure. Murphy, a Rienzi resident, was appointed in 2008 to the Board, which sets policy for the state’s public school districts, by former Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi.
Gunn, R-Clinton, had nominated Joel Bomgar of Jackson, owner of a Ridgeland-based computer software company to replace Murphy, but he was rejected during the 2013 session by the Senate Education Committee.
Bomgar ran into difficulty on a number of fronts in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Education Committee. He was questioned by some because of his connection with groups that staunchly opposed pre-K programs and supported vouchers and because of his decision to home-school his children.
Nathan Wells, chief of staff for Gunn, said the speaker hopes to fill the spot with “a recess appointment” that could serve until the Legislature meets in 2014. At that time, it would be up to the Senate to confirm or reject the speaker’s nomination.
Wells said the speaker “has been looking at resumes, hoping to find the right person to serve.”
It is not clear whether the speaker will have the vacancy filled on the Board in time for the July meeting. It is a crucial time for the state Board as it works to hire a new state superintendent and to enact laws passed by the 2013 Legislature, such as a limited pre-kindergarten program and “a third-grade reading gate” that would prevent students from being promoted past the third grade in some instances unless they are reading on grade level.
Murphy will be honored today by the state Board during this week’s meetings.
Her replacement will be slated for a nine-year term on the Board that is made up of five appointments by the governor, two by the lieutenant governor and two by the speaker. With the end of Murphy’s tenure, only one woman – Kami Bumgarner of Madison – remains on the state Board.
Wells said the speaker will be concerned with finding a board member “eager” to work to improve public education and “with his vision” for public education more so than finding a replacement of a specific gender or ethnicity.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com