School board approves transportation director despite unanswered question

The Muscogee County School Board meets Tuesday night.
The Muscogee County School Board meets Tuesday night.

The Muscogee County School Board approved a new transportation director despite an unanswered question about his employment history, a land swap with the Columbus Consolidated Government and a new assistant principal during its monthly meeting Tuesday night.

The board approved Muscogee County School District superintendent David Lewis’ recommendation to hire former Columbus TV newscaster John Lyles and replace Frank Brown, who was MCSD’s transportation director for four years before he was fired Aug. 19 for what district officials have called violations of ethics and purchasing policies.

Lyles has nearly 15 years of work experience in public transportation, including with MCSD and the Columbus Consolidated Government, according to his resume.

The vote was 5-0-2. Chairman Rob Varner of District 5, vice chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1, Athavia “A.J.” Senior of District 3, Naomi Buckner of District 4 and Shannon Smallman of District 7 voted yes. Kia Chambers, the nine-member school board’s lone county-wide representative, and Mark Cantrell of District 6 were absent from the meeting. John Thomas of District 2 and Frank Myers of District 8 abstained.

Thomas said he abstained because of conflicting information about Lyles’ employment history. The administration has said he is employed by the Liberty County School System in Hinesville, Ga., but his resume shows that he was assistant superintendent for operations in the Liberty County from August 2013 to June 2014 and lists two current job positions: president and chief executive officer of Atlanta-based Internet Transportation Solutions LLC (also known as iTrans) since June 2010 and owner of Columbus-based JR Construction Inc. since June 2005.

Nobody cleared up the discrepancy during the meeting. Afterward, the Ledger-Enquirer asked Lyles to clarify. He said he is the Liberty County School System’s transportation director and his resume wasn’t updated. He also said the correct information is on his application, although it wasn’t provided to the public. He wouldn’t say whether he is in the positions he lists as current on his resume and referred all other questions to MCSD communications director Valerie Fuller, who also wouldn’t answer.

Myers expressed a different reason for abstaining.

“I’ve known John Lyles for 20 years,” Myers said. “I’m a big fan of John Lyles on a personal level, but the idea that – I guess the policy hasn’t changed – that we’re not allowed to even talk with somebody, I have a couple questions I want to talk to John about, but we’re not allowed as board members to meet somebody before we vote.”

Lyles’ annual salary will be approximately $90,000, said MCSD human resources chief Kathy Tessin. That’s approximately $5,000 more than Brown’s last salary figure because Lyles has more experience in transportation, Tessin said.

The Ledger-Enquirer reported last week that Brown’s departure wasn’t publicly disclosed until the administration answered the L-E’s questions about why the vacancy was created.

“Specifically, purchasing limits and approval procedures were not followed, and Mr. Brown failed to report that his son had ownership in the business in which these violations were involved,” Fuller told the L-E in an email.

Tessin and operations chief David Goldberg told the L-E after last week’s work session the district didn’t spend any money with the business in question, but Brown did try to get his son’s company the district’s contract that included sanitizing buses, they said.

“There was no purchase before we caught the issue,” Tessin said.

Brown’s termination came three days before the Aug. 22 single-vehicle crash that killed bus driver Roy Newman and sent all seven passengers to a hospital. Newman was driving a replacement bus after his original bus broke down that morning, but the accident and Brown’s dismissal aren’t connected, Tessin said.

Lyles’ other jobs, according to his resume include: transportation director for Atlanta Public Schools from December 2010 to August 2013, transportation director for Clayton County (Jonesboro, Ga.) Public Schools from December 2005 to December 2010, transportation specialist for the Muscogee County School District from September 2003 to December 2005, transportation services manager for the METRA transit system in Columbus from March 2001 to September 2003, the owner of a Subway sandwich shop franchise in Columbus from January 1998 to January 2004, senior news anchor for WTVM in Columbus from November 1994 to March 2001, bureau chief and news reporter for WLOS in Asheville, N.C., from November 1992 to November 1994, government reporter for WLTZ in Columbus from November 1991 to November 1992.

Lyles earned a master’s degree in business management from Troy University in 2006 and a bachelor’s degree in communications from Columbus State University in 1999, according to his resume.

Land swap

In a 7-0 vote, the board approved the land swap that has been negotiated for about two years.

Columbus Council unanimously approved the deal during its meeting last week.

According to the agreement, MCSD will receive city property on Fort Benning and Cusseta Road for the project that will become the new Spencer High School in exchange for property adjacent to Brewer Elementary School on Buena Vista Road and the former Beallwood School property on Alexander Street.

Because the city property is valued at almost $1.5 million and the school district property at almost $700,000, the school district will also pay the city almost $750,000 to cover the difference, city documents shows.

The school district property at 1125 Alexander Street currently has a reversionary clause stating it must be used for educational purposes only. Once the contracts for the swap are signed, the school district will have 180 days to get the clause removed or it will revert to the district’s ownership and the district will then pay the city $506,000 to cover the balance. If the clause is removed and it stays in the city’s hands, the land could be used to expand the Pop Austin Recreation facility, which is adjacent to the land.

The city plans to use the land adjacent to Brewer Elementary in the project to improve the intersection known as “the spiderweb.”

The land the city is giving MCSD for the project to build a new Spencer and an athletics complex for system-wide use is at 1000, 1026, 1030, 1044 and 1102 Fort Benning Road, and 3970, 3966, 3960, 3954 and 3832 Cusseta Road.

The closing costs for this transaction will be split between the City and the School District.

The original memorandum of understanding in 2014 called for MCSD to give the city the former Marshall Middle School and Tillinghurst Adult Education properties, but the school district agreed to the city’s subsequent request for the former Beallwood School property instead.

New assistant principal

The board unanimously approved the promotion of Antron Murray from secondary dean at Kendrick High School to assistant principal at Hannan Magnet Academy.

Murray is replacing Anton Anthony, who moved out of the district this summer, Tessin told the L-E.

According to his resume, Murray has been an educator for five years. He started as a physical education teacher at East Columbus Magnet Academy in 2011 and began working as a special-education teacher at Kendrick High in 2015. He started this school year as the school’s secondary dean. He served as a patrol officer in the Columbus Police Department from May 2009 to January 2011 and as a juvenile correctional training lieutenant at the Aaron Cohn Regional Youth Detention Center in Columbus from June 1999 to May 2009.

Murray has earned three degrees from Columbus State University: a specialist’s degree in educational leadership in 2014, a master’s degree in middle grades math and English in 2012 and a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education in 2008, according to his resume.

Staff writer Mike Owen contributed to this report