Muscogee school board may appoint former Superintendent John Phillips as interim

The Muscogee County school board may bring former Superintendent John Phillips back as an interim schools chief as current Superintendent Susan Andrews leaves office.

District 8 board representative Beth Harris thought the appointment was likely Monday night, saying earlier Monday that the board at its evening meeting could hire a search firm to find Andrews’ permanent replacement and then appoint an interim.

“After the regular board meeting, then we’re supposed to go into the executive session, and I’m pretty sure that we’ll vote on the search firm tonight, and we’ll vote on an interim, as far as I understand it,” Harris said.

In open session Monday night the board hired McPherson and Jacobson LLC of Omaha, Neb., as the executive search firm, then held a closed personnel session about an hour long. After that, it adjourned without voting on an interim. Harris confirmed that Phillips is a “strong possibility” as an interim.

“Yes, he’s a candidate,” she said. “There’s a strong possibility, but even we haven’t voted on it or anything.”

Citywide representative Cathy Williams, who chairs the board, would say only that “any of the living superintendents” are candidates for interim, adding, “They have a familiarity with the district, so I would assume they would be candidates.”

Of Phillips in particular, she said: “I know he was our last interim, and we could also go with an outside company or person. Some people apparently specialize in that.” Questioned last week, Phillips denied he was involved in any negotiations with the school district: “I’m not sure about that — really haven’t discussed it, frankly,” he said.

He could not be reached Monday.

He retired from the school district Aug. 1, 2008, but returned Sept. 1 of that year to serve as interim. His entire compensation package while superintendent about $250,000 annually. As interim he reportedly was paid $20,848 monthly as the search firm Brock, Clay and Associates sought his replacement.

Phillips started as Muscogee superintendent Jan. 6, 2003, having the previous October agreed to a three-year contract with a base salary of $150,038 and a total compensation package of $211,165.

In 2006, his contract was extended through June 2009, with a $7,752 increase in his base pay, and in July 2007, it was extended again, giving him a base salary of $192,000 and a total compensation of $250,181 annually, according to Ledger-Enquirer archives.

His time as superintendent occasionally was controversial. In November 2003, right after voters by 279 votes approved a $148.7 million sales tax for schools, the public learned Phillips in reorganizing his office was bringing in an associate to serve as a high-paid “chief of staff.” He was compelled to apologize for “terrible timing” and drop that plan.

In September 2007, he and his supporters on the school board sparked a citywide controversy by pushing through a $30 million administration building at Macon and Rigdon Roads. Today that’s the Muscogee Public Education Center, sometimes called the “Taj Mahal.”

The board appointed Andrews superintendent on Dec. 1, 2008, recruiting her from the Harris County district. She is to leave office on July 31.