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MDE votes 10-1 for JPS District takeover

Photo courtesy of TeleSouth Communications, Inc.

The Jackson Public Schools face a state takeover as the school accreditation board voted 10-1 in favor of a district take over today.

Here are a few highlights from the meeting.

Among a large list of things, Dr. Paula Vanderford, a member of the accreditation team said that the Jackson Public Schools failed to ensure that all of their schools met the minimum requirements for graduation.

“The MDE reviewed records of 1,404 graduating seniors in all of the seven high schools,” said Vanderford. “Each of the seven high schools lacked the required documentation to verify that all students that had graduated had earned the minimum number of Carnegie units or had met or passed one of the options in lieu of all four subject area tests. The district allowed 86 students to graduate who did not earn the minimum number of Carnegie units and 63 students did not pass all four end of subject courses or meet one of the options in lieu of.”

Vanderford also said that in the 2016-2017 personnel data report JPS reported 5,202 employees, 1,972 employees were coded as certified teachers.

“299, or 15 percent of the 1,972 certified teachers employed in the district did not hold a valid Mississippi Teachers License or lacked proper endorsements for the subject that they were teaching. This was in addition to the 190 vacancies that the district had reported,” said Vanderford.

The MDE accreditation team also said that there was an average of four violations for each record that was reviewed.

Vanderford added that JPS is at risk of losing almost two million dollars.

“As of August 31, 2017, the district had a total of $1,831,879.00 in FY 16 funds that have yet to be expended,” said Vanderford. “Although no federal physical requirements have been violated to date pertaining to these funds, if the district fails to obligate these funds by September the 30th of 2017 and liquidate by December 30th, 2017, this nearly two million dollars in funding will be reverted back to the United States Department of Education.”

Vanderford continued.

“This is not an audit finding, but it is important for you to understand that this is two million dollars that the district is at risk of losing which could be used for providing educational benefit to the nearly 27,000 students that are enrolled in the district,” said Vanderford.

JPS was then given a chance to speak to the issues found.  Much of what is contained in that report is from a year ago or six to eight months ago. The Jackson Public Schools today is much different than it was twelve months ago, even six months ago.”

“Much of what is contained in that report is from a year ago or six to eight months ago,” said Dr. Frederick Murray, Interim Superintendent for the Jackson Public School District. “The Jackson Public Schools today is much different than it was twelve months ago, even six months ago.”

Murray added that JPS recently restructured to create areas that were more manageable and asked that MDE allow sufficient time for the restructuring to take hold.

“We have only had about 10 days to prepare for this presentation, but we have addressed every single standard, every standard,” said Murray. “We either have a policy, a procedure, or we have taken an action on every standard.”

During the closing arguments, the JPS attorney said that a more collaborative effort needed to be seen in the future.

“Sitting here listening to this entire process if there is not but one thing that ought to come out of this, it is that whenever we look at taking over a school district, the effort to get there has got to be more collaborative than what we have seen so far. It can’t be a gotcha situation,” said Jim Keith, Attorney for the Jackson Public School District. “We have got to look at this whole process of being a collaborative process to try to help districts improve their performance, and then if they prove, with a collaborative effort, that they can’t improve, then that might mean that the state needs to take someone over. But, let’s do the collaboration on the front end rather than a gotcha situation and then come at them with taking over.”

Keith added saying that JPS has made significant strides to correct the violations.

“I’ve been doing this now for about 30 years and I have never seen a school district react as aggressively as this district has to correct these issues and it’s not going to be corrected overnight.”

After private deliberations for an hour, the state School Accreditation Commission voted 10-1 that the state Board of Education and Gov. Phil Bryant should declare an emergency in the Jackson Public School District.

The board of education will take up the issue this Thursday.


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