Report by John Mott Coffey, with News Mississippi affiliate WQNZ
NATCHEZ, Miss.–Natchez-Adams School Board President Tim Blaylock said he’s not giving in to Adams County supervisors’ demand Monday that he resign.
He insisted he’ll stay for the remainder of the five-year term the supervisors appointed him to serve until February 2016.
“I’m not doing it for (supervisors). I’m doing it for my kids,” said Blaylock, whose children attend the Natchez-Adams County schools.
At a testy meeting Blaylock had Monday with the county board, supervisors lambasted the school board president for what they say is a high turnover of school administrators the past couple of years.
“I think, if you’re not seeing the problem, you are part of the problem,” Supervisor David Carter told Blaylock.
The five-member Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ask Blaylock to resign. The board first discussed firing Blaylock, but state law does not allow that before the end of his term except in cases of serious misconduct.
“I don’t have the power to remove you, but I would like to remove you,” county Board President Darryl Grennell told Blaylock, who was appointed to the school board in 2011.
County supervisors since last year have expressed discontent with the Natchez-Adams School District Board of Trustees and its appointed superintendent, Fred Hill. They’ve been especially peeved about the removal of principals and other administrators.
“You’re letting good people go,” Carter told Blaylock during the heated exchanges Monday between the supervisors and school board president.
The most recent departure is of Will Smith, who was Natchez High School principal for just one year and resigned last month.
“He’s leaving because he doesn’t have confidence in what you’re doing,” Carter told Blaylock.
Blaylock said the supervisors’ criticism of Hill and NASD board members is based on misinformation being spread by a “vocal minority” upset by changes being made to shake up the academically struggling school system.
“I was attacked at the meeting based on hearsay and not evidence,” said Blaylock, an attorney.
Academic improvements made in the school system – which went from an ‘F’ to a ‘D’ last year on the state Department of Education’s accreditation grading scale – have required changes that some school staffers don’t like, he said.
“We’ve found lot of resistance to raising expectations,” Blaylock said. “The old ways of doing things are over.”
Supervisors voted for Blaylock’s resignation after he left Monday’s meeting. In rebuffing their request, he said in an interview later that he’ll continue “to stand up for what’s right” as a board member while his term lasts until next year, when supervisors can replace or keep him on the board.
“If they’re not going to renew me, so be it,” he said.
The five-member NASD Board of Trustees has taken a barrage of criticism since last year for how it and Hill are running the Natchez schools. The grievances have focused mainly on low morale, instability and personnel changes within the school district. The castigation was sharpest last July, when Natchez aldermen voted 3-2 to fire the three school trustees appointed by the city. However, that vote was nullified because state law doesn’t allow aldermen to remove school board members.
The county board appoints two NASD trustees, but the school board operates with independence in determining local school taxes and overseeing the Natchez-Adams School District’s $40 million-a-year budget, 11 schools, 3,600 students and 770 employees.
In another jab at NASD leaders, the Board of Supervisors in August appointed to the school board Cynthia Smith, the mother of one of its most outspoken critics. Her daughter is former Natchez High School assistant principal Shannon Doughty, who lost her job last year as part of the staff shakeup that’s prompted much of the public rancor directed at Hill and the school board. Doughty has sued the NASD administration.
Cynthia Smith, who was at Monday’s meeting with the Board of Supervisors, expressed dissatisfaction about how Hill is running the school system. She alleged school employees complain about being “pushed and bullied in certain ways to make a decision.”
“There is a problem, and it needs to be addressed.” said Smith, who noted she’s raised her grievances to Hill and fellow board members. “I think everything I question has legitimacy.”
She questioned, for example, why a NASD teacher of the year was transferred to another school without justification.
However, Blaylock said NASD staff surveys show “85 percent of our employees agree with what we’re doing.”
Will Smith last year replaced Fred Butcher, who also had served a brief stint as NHS principal.
Others also out at NHS are head football coach Melvin Pete, who served just one year, and longtime head basketball coach Mike Martin.
After flunking the state assessments for the past two years, the Natchez-Adams school system last October was awarded a ‘D’ after changes were made under Hill with the school board’s approval.
West Elementary improved from an ‘F’ to a ‘C’. McLaurin Elementary remained at a ‘C’. Frazier Elementary improved from an ‘F’ to a ‘D’.Morgantown Middle School remained an ‘F,’ Natchez High School improved from an ‘F’ to a ‘D.’