Education

Another member resigns from Phenix City Board of Education

Columbus

The Phenix City Council already had one spot to fill on the school board. Now, it is scheduled to vote on two replacements during its meeting today.

Mayor Eddie Lowe confirmed Tuesday that Cordelia Moffett is the most recent member of the seven-person Phenix City Board of Education to resign. Rick Carpenter resigned last month from his position as president and as a member of the board.

Lowe declined to say why Moffett resigned and deferred to her for an explanation. Moffett wasn’t reached for comment Tuesday, but she said in her resignation letter to Lowe that she made the decision because of “personal reasons.”

“I want to express my sincere appreciation to you and members of the council who voted for my appointment,” Moffett wrote. “I truly regret that I will not be able to fulfill this assignment. However, I know there are many very capable citizens who will be glad to serve.”

Phenix City Schools superintendent Randy Wilkes said Moffett didn’t give him a reason for her resignation.

“Dr. Moffett’s service to the Phenix City Board of Education was most appreciated,” Wilkes said in an email to the Ledger-Enquirer. “Her care and concern for our students was her top priority. We wish her well.”

Moffett’s served on the board less than four months. Council appointed her May 18 to replace Zara Parham, who also resigned without a public explanation. Moffett was supposed to fill the remainder of Parham’s five-year term, which is set to expire in June 2019. The council appointed Parham in April 2014, when she replaced Florence Bellamy, whose term was up for renewal but she declined to be considered and resigned after 25 years of service.

Moffett, the school system’s former assistant superintendent, served on the board that she sued. She settled her racial and gender discrimination lawsuit against the board 17 years ago.

During its meeting July 29, 1999, the board emerged from a one-hour closed session and unanimously voted to settle its yearlong legal dispute with Moffett, and she accepted the offer.

The board agreed to pay Moffett $440,000 and cover her $117,000 in attorney fees. Moffett agreed to never again apply for the Phenix City superintendent’s job and to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning it can’t be refiled. Larry Hardman, then the interim superintendent, agreed to write Moffett a letter of recommendation, and undisclosed “inappropriate entries” would be removed from Moffett’s personnel file. The board and its individuals were cleared of liability and made no admission of guilt.

Moffett, who is black, sued the board after it hired then-assistant Superintendent Jack Russell as superintendent in April 1997. She was one of the search consultant’s finalists; Russell wasn’t.

The board fired Russell in December 1998 after he wrecked a school system-leased car in an alcohol-related accident.

Carpenter stated in his Aug. 24 letter to Wilkes the reason he resigned is to “dedicate more time and focus on meeting the needs of my family and my business customers.” Carpenter is a real estate agent with Shepherd Brokers.

The five-member elected city council appoints the school board members to five-year terms, and the board members elect their officers. Carpenter was the board’s president for only three months and served as a board member for four years.

Based on Robert’s Rules of Order, the board’s vice president, Paul Stamp, was elevated to president and will serve the remainder of president’s one-year term, until May, board attorney Bob Meadows said during the Aug. 25 meeting. John Donohue nominated Mesha Patrick as vice president. Without any other nominations, the board unanimously approved the motion, 5-0. Moffett was absent.

The board voted in May to have Carpenter and Stamp replace Brad Baker and Kelvin Redd, respectively, as president and vice president, one month after the city council denied Baker and Redd their requests to be reappointed to second terms.

Lowe and council members Jim Cannon of District 1 and Arthur Day of District 3 voted in the bloc that ousted Baker and Redd and replaced them with John Donohue and Will Lawrence. At-large council member Johnny Barfield and council member Gail Head of District 2 voted in the bloc that tried to keep Baker and Redd on the school board.

Carpenter was on the board when it voted without explanation in November 2013 to dismiss then-superintendent Larry Dichiara after 9½ years of service. In October 2014, the board approved settling his contract dispute by paying DiChiara $587,412, less taxes, to buy out the 4½ years left on his contract.

Lowe, who was president of the school board before he became mayor in 2012, said this about the school board’s abrupt dismissal of Dichiara in an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer last month for a story about the mayoral election:

“When that started taking place, the entire council — because of some of the nuances, when it came time for the people on that board to be reappointed — we were going to look at going a different route,” Lowe said. “All five of us said that at the time. Now some people changed their minds, which they have a right to.”

Asked whether the reason he resigned has anything to do with the results of the election, when Lowe won a second term, Carpenter told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email Aug. 25, “Eddie has made it known in word and deed that he wants to replace everyone who was on the Board when DiChiara left, and I'm next,” Carpenter said. “So, I decided I would pick the time, and I think it will benefit the children of the system if I do it now rather than later."

Carpenter didn’t say how resigning now instead of next year, when his term expires, would benefit the children. Reached by phone Tuesday, he declined to explain and said, “I’m ready to move on. I don’t have a comment anymore on that.”

Stamp and Fran Ellis are the only members remaining from the board that hired Wilkes two years ago, in June 2014, from Crenshaw County. Wilkes said after the Aug. 25 that fact doesn’t bother him.

“Go back to see what you’ve seen with test scores, with facilities and everything,” the superintendent said then. “It’s moving in the right direction.”

Tuesday, the mayor praised the “great job” Wilkes is doing but said the school board’s turnover rate isn’t the council’s issue.

“That’s a separate entity,” Lowe said. “It’s their organization. I respect that. I don’t get into that. I don’t worry about that. The only thing we can do is appoint them. Then we’re out of it.”

Lowe said council members will interview “three or four” candidates for the two school board positions following this afternoon’s work session, then consider nominations during today’s meeting.

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