By PAUL SIMS
A parent seeking to comment on the process for choosing a new leader for the city school system was ejected from a special board meeting Wednesday on directions from Starkville School District Board president Pickett Wilson.
The board met for almost four hours Wednesday – about half behind closed doors – before adjourning with a draft plan for hiring a new superintendent.
The special meeting was called to discuss the hiring procedures for choosing a successor to former SSD superintndent Judy Couey. Couey resigned citing health reasons in April, then received an $80,000 buyout from the board.
About 50 people attended the meeting, with 40 allowed in the meeting room and the overflow just outside the room.
Wilson said there were six individuals who wished to make “three minutes comments” to the board.
After setting its agenda, the board opened up the floor to public comment, with Kathleen Oliveri leading off the ultimately seven people who spoke. The seventh person had been inadvertently left off the list.
During her remarks, Oliveri said: “The Starkville School District is in a crisis, and the citizens are tired of the school board’s tyrannical rule. Pick any topic – the school board wields tyrannical control without respect to teachers or students.”
Oliveri continued to read several points including allegations of harassement and sexual assaults in the district.
“We cannot trust you to handle crimes and sexual assault accusations correctly,” Oliveri said.
Wilson spoke up and told Oliveri she had exceeded her alloted time.
Oliveri replied: “I was not given any three-minute time limit.”
Oliveri kept reading while Starkville High School resource officer Sammy Shumaker asked Oliveri to step away from the table.
Oliveri turned to the audience and asked: “What do y’all think? I was not told three minutes.”
Wilson told her the policy is three minutes, “we gave you four minutes. We are asking that you leave the room. Officer Shumaker does have the authority to remove you from the room and also arrest you, Ms. Oliveri.”
Oliveri addressed members of the media and said she would supply copies of her statement. “It’s past time for some of you to resign,” she said to the board.
Wilson asked: “Do we need a motion to adjourn the board meeting, please?,” to which audience members cried out, “No.”
Wilson then declared a recess.
“Y’all can go ahead and recess I’m going to read this,” Oliveri said, with Shumaker continuing to ask her to leave. Wilson and board attorney Dolton McAlpin left the room. Oliveri was then allowed to continue.
Other school board members realized the board had not actually voted to go into recess. board vice president Keith Coble said he would give “them a just few more moments and then I believe that we do need to go forward.”
A few minutes later, a Starkville police officer arrived and – along with Shumaker – escorted Oliveri from the building.
Back at the school board meeting, McAlpin read the board’s public response policy, saying it does not set a time limit but that the board could establish one by vote. He then said officials could by law could have someone removed who did not stop talking when “asked by the chair not to talk,” adding it constitutes a disruption of a school board meeting.
Debbie Shire, the superintendent’s secretary, said she did not inform those who asked to speak to the board of a time limit. The board eventually voted to allow all other speakers seven minutes to talk.
Then, the board heard board member Eric Heiselt outline a draft of his approach.
Routinely emphasizing this was a draft, his proposal follows three steps. These are:
u Pre-planning. This includes posting the superintendent search in publications, sending mass mailings to numerous universities, the use of list-serves and Sewell’s completion of the district-self study.
u Planning. This phase involves the creation of an executive search committee and four sub-committees – School Employee, Community Member, Parent and School Board and Administrator. The Executive Search Committee (ESC) would be led by a school board member and made up of at least one but not more than two members of each subcommittee.
u Interviewing. After the proposed closing date of July 25, officials would compile applications, then do initial interviews by phone or via Internet video streaming calls. Final applicants would then be called in for face-to-face interviews with all of the sub-committees. The interviews would be open to the public but only committee members would be “active in the process,” the draft reads. Community members would be allowed to submit questions to the sub-committee chair in advance.
Eventually, the ESC would convene, with the panel’s chair making a recommendation to the school board.
“While it is likely that the final decision may be made in an executive session as determined by the (school board), the offer notification will be announced immediately after coming out of executive session. Based on the applicant’s response to the offer, the public will be notified as soon as the final contract negotiations are finalized and a start date will be announced,” Heiselt’s draft reads.
Yet to be decided are such aspects as whether or not to involve a consultant and when the new superintendent would start, with one possibility being Jan. 1.
Officials have posted Heiselt’s draft to the district’s website – http://www.starkville.k12.ms.us/  – and supplied an e-mail address to which people can address comments on it.
The board also set a public hearing on the search process for the next superintendent in the multi-purpose building on the northwest side of Sudduth Elementary School for May 31 at 6 p.m. Comments at the hearing will be limited to the search process and a three-minute time frame.
Just before 4:40 p.m., board secretary Eddie Myles announced the board voted to go into executive session to discuss a personnel matter.
At 5:36 p.m., Wilson left the board room and the building, saying she had to attend to a sick child. Around 6:08 p.m., board members emerged, saying they had voted to recess. They resumed their meeting then Myles announced at 6:50 p.m. the board adjourned without taking action.
Coble remained after the meeting and answered questions, including one about the exact nature of the session and whether it involved an allegation of sexual harassment - as referenced the statement made by Oliveri.
“We talked about personnel issues. I can’t name the issue,” he said, adding “I know there are some rumors in the community about some issues and the board is never going to avoid an issue. We will follow process.”
Some people were allegedly kept from entering the room and officials had asked media members to sit at the board table to allow people to enter the room.
The only reason Shumaker would have kept people from going into the room would be “for the fire marshal,” Coble said. The door to the room was kept open during the open session as people gathered in the hallway to hear. The room’s posted maximum capacity is 40.