Board of Trustees approves big-spending measures
By Othor Cain
Faced with questions about big spending in his former school district, Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Cedrick Gray vows to remain focused on JPS and moving this district forward. “I cannot afford to lose sight of what is before us, even with lingering questions,” Gray said. “Everything we did in Fayette County, Tenn., was above board and done with board approval.”
Last week Gray asked JPS board of trustees to approve hiring a financial team that would help with restructuring its debt and save the district money. Gray submitted to the board some background on the team and the reason he wanted to bring them on board. What he did not give them were hard cold numbers on cost or projected savings.
“I would like to see how much this will cost us, how this will work, how much we will save,” asked Dr. George Schimmel, one of seven school board members. To those questions, Gray replied, “ I didn’t bring that information with me, but I will get that to you.”
The Mississippi Link asked Gray about his request of the board and if he thought it was his responsibility to keep them [the board] informed of items that require spending.
“Yes it is my responsibility to keep them informed, and yes I should have had all of that information before the board members when I initially asked them to approve the measure,” Gray replied. “I didn’t do that. Of course, I am human and I do make mistakes.”
When The Mississippi Link compared that presentation to the board of trustees at JPS with perhaps how he presented to the board in Fayette County, Tenn., Gray became strong vocally.
“I know where you are going with that, Mr. Cain, and I want you to know that I have never done anything to intentionally mislead anyone. I take pride in having built a solid reputation of being honest and above board,” he said. “It is not in my nature to pull the ‘wool’ over anyone’s eyes.”
Without having solid numbers in front of them prior to casting the vote, the board of trustees approved the measure 4-1 with two members abstaining. In a quick crunch of numbers done by The Mississippi Link, this vote essentially pays the financial team $1 million in hopes of saving nearly $4 million.
During the same board meeting, the board voted to hire two additional consultants to help JPS in the arena of Special Education. This is the area in which JPS is defending its accreditation status. “We felt it was important to bring someone in from the outside who had a lot of experience in this area, who could really assist us in moving forward in those areas that perhaps we’ve been a little deficient in,” Gray said.
When The Mississippi Link noted that Gray’s predecessor Dr. Jayne Sergeant had already hired consultants for Special Education who are still in place and the consultants he suggested hiring were coming from districts in Tennessee with far greater problems in Special Education than JPS, Gray still defended his position.
“I don’t know of a school district in the country that doesn’t at some point in time have problems in Special Education,” he said. “It’s the nature of the beast…. I’m also not familiar with the districts in Tenn. fairing worse than JPS.”
The board approved this measure without any background checks of the consultants.
“To the notion that my predecessor had already hired consultants, the ones the board approved for me will be working in a different area than those already hired,” Gray said.
In recent headlines, Gray has come under scrutiny for having a top-heavy administration in a district that is strapped for cash and fighting with the city to levy a tax that would push the district to its recommended budget of $88 million.