President resigns from Phenix City Board of Education


Phenix City Board of Education president Rick Carpenter resigned.

Superintendent Randy Wilkes announced Carpenter’s resignation during Thursday night’s meeting.

Based on Robert’s Rules of Order, vice president Paul Stamp will serve the remainder of the term, until May, as the seven-member board’s president, said board attorney Bob Meadows. John Donohue nominated Mesha Patrick as vice president. Without any other nominations, the board unanimously approved the motion, 5-0. Cordelia Moffett was absent.

Reached by phone after the meeting, Carpenter declined to tell the Ledger-Enquirer why he resigned. He did however forward the resignation letter he sent Wilkes.

The reason he stated in the letter is that “it’s time for me 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.

Carpenter told Wilkes in the letter it’s been “a privilege to work with you, a very capable and dedicated group of board members, and a great group of teachers and administrators in improving the quality of educational experiences that we provide our students. We have shared many victories and also endured the wrath that has accompanied making difficult decisions along the way.”

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.

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.

Mayor Eddie Lowe and Councilmembers 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 Councilmember Johnny Barfield and Councilmember 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 2013 to dismiss then-Superintendent Larry Dichiara. Lowe, who was president of the school board before he became mayor, wasn’t reached for comment Thursday night, but he said this about the school board’s abrupt dismissal of Dichiara in an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer last week 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.”

Since that point, Lowe has voted against the reappointment of school board members Barbara Mitchell in addition to Baker and Redd. Florence Bellamy resigned in 2014 before the council could vote on her reappointment.

“I have been consistent,” said Lowe, a former president of the school board before being elected mayor. “Why do people want to know a reason now when we did not appoint the other people?”

Asked whether the reason he resigned has anything to do with the results of Tuesday’s election, when Lowe won a second term, Carpenter declined to answer by phone but later emailed the Ledger-Enquirer this response:

“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.”

Asked how resigning now instead of not being reappointed next year would benefit the children, Carpenter didn’t respond before deadline.

After the school board meeting Thursday night, Wilkes said Carpenter “served us admirably and was very effective and was very active, on the sideline, in the stands, came to board meetings with a lot of input, was responsible for helping nudge us in the direction that we’ve gone.”

Only two of the seven members who hired Wilkes two years ago, in June 2014 from Crenshaw County, remain on the board. That fact doesn’t worry Wilkes, he said, and it shouldn’t worry the public, he added.

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

Stamp, as the board’s new president, told the Ledger-Enquirer that positive momentum will continue.

“The quarterback goes down, the second string has to come in,” he said. “… I just want to carry on from where we’ve been going. We’ve got great leaders here, and I just want to do whatever we need to do to help.”

Asked whether the rash of turnover on the board bothers him, Stamp said, “It does, but I try not to worry about it. We’re all appointed by the city council, and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. … If they keep replacing people, we’ll just have to continue going.”

Budget approved

With a 5-0 vote, the board approved Wilkes’ recommended budget for next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

Compared to the FY 2016 budget, the plan for FY 2017 expects spending to be cut by about 5 percent, from $72,955,694 to $69,808,749. Cheryl Burns, the school system’s chief financial officer, told the L-E most of the reduced expenditures will come from fewer capital projects during next fiscal year.

Comparing revenue, the system anticipates receiving about 1 percent more in FY 2017, increasing from $69,236,286 to $69,846,639. Most of that represents the 4 percent pay raise the state has allotted for public school employees who earn less than $150,000, plus principals and assistant principals regardless of their salary, Burns said.

The FY 2017 budget intends to use $572,463 in reserves. That would leave $5,679,500 of fund balance. Alabama’s school fiscal accountability law requires one month’s worth of operating balance in reserve. Phenix City’s FY 2017 budget would leave 1.31 months of operating expenses in reserve, exceeding the requirement by $1,335,297, but the school system’s goal is to have the reserve between 1.3 and 1.8 months, Burns said.

Since FY 2009, the system’s reserve has ranged from a low of 0.56 months in FY 2010 to a high of 1.85 months in FY 2015.

The largest chunk of the FY 2017 budget’s revenue comes from the state’s allotment of $42,950,573, which is 62 percent. The rest comes from local ($15,344,149, 22 percent), federal (7,400,258, 11 percent) and other revenues ($217,000) and other sources ($3,324,306).

Senior reporter Chuck Williams contributed to this report