School board OKs bringing back John Phillips as interim superintendent

Former school superintendent John Phillips is coming back to Muscogee County.

The school board voted as expected Monday night to appoint Phillips to take over as interim superintendent Aug. 1, the day after retiring Superintendent Susan Andrews leaves office.

The vote was 7-2, with board chairwoman Cathy Williams and District 6 representative Mark Cantrell voting no. Voting yes were Pat Hugley Green, John Wells, James Walker, Naomi Buckner, Rob Varner, Norene Marvets and Beth Harris.

Varner prefaced his vote by noting the board had no contract with Phillips for him to inspect, and he might change his mind when he sees what the contract says.

“Just so y’all know where I stand, I’m going to vote ‘yes’ on this, but it’s a qualified ‘yes’ because I’m concerned about the amount of money that we may be talking about paying Dr. Phillips,” said the District 5 representative. “So just know that if, in a month from now or whenever this comes back up, I vote ‘no,’ you’ll understand.”

Attorney Greg Ellington advised the board not to publicly disclose what it’s planning to pay Phillips because the district still is negotiating with him. The board could discuss Phillips’ pay only in a closed session, he said.

Wells, who during the board’s June 4 meeting insisted the school district already has budgeted funds for the superintendent’s salary, acknowledged after Monday’s meeting that Phillips would be paid the monthly value of Andrews’ compensation, so the board will pay no more than it would be were Andrews not retiring.

That would mean that for three months Phillips will be paid the cash value of Andrews’ salary and benefits, reportedly about $17,000 per month.

Under the conditions of his state retirement plan, he cannot work full time for longer than that, and after three months must cut his hours to 20 per week, for which he reportedly would be paid about $8,400 monthly.

Marvets, who represents District 7, said during the board’s discussion Monday that members should not make public revelations about Phillips’ anticipated pay.

“Again with the reckless comments, I think any type of money that is mentioned, or saying that it’s an exorbitant fee, is a little bit premature, again, to be saying in public, until everybody knows what it is,” she said.

When Williams suggested the board could have a contract to approve next month, Wells interjected, “Or sooner.”

Phillips will be returning to the district after a four-year absence. 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 in the job was about $250,000 annually. As interim he reportedly was paid $20,848 monthly as the search firm Brock, Clay and Associates sought his replacement.

The board appointed Andrews superintendent Dec. 1, 2008, recruiting her from the Harris County district.

Phillips began his tenure as Muscogee superintendent Jan. 6, 2003.

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 was reorganizing his office and bringing in an associate to serve as a high-paid “chief of staff.” He was compelled to apologize for “terrible timing” and dropped 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 derisively called the “Taj Mahal,” which opened in October 2009.