April 19, 2017 9:53:00 AM
During a specially called meeting Tuesday, the Columbus Municipal School District board of trustees voted unanimously to approve drafting an amendment to extend Superintendent Philip Hickman's contract.
"We had a frank discussion about everything in the district," board president Jason Spears said after the meeting. "We have authorized the attorney to go back and look at the old contract, draft the contract for us to consider and look at with other variables that we will discuss at our May 8 meeting," he added.
Spears stressed the board has not made an official decision about whether or not to extend Hickman's contract. Board attorney David Dunn will draft the amendment to the contract, and the board will discuss the amendment and determine whether to extend Hickman's contract at the next meeting on May 8.
Hickman's contract as it is currently written is up June 30, 2018.
Hickman said after the meeting he was happy with the board's decision.
"I think it's a wonderful thing that the board came together in a 5-0 vote to show confidence in my leadership, and I look forward to working with them as a team of six to really impact children in this community of education," he said.
Since Hickman's tenure began in the summer of 2014, graduation rates in the district have steadily increased, from 62 percent during the 2013-2014 school year to a projected 81 percent this year. Graduation is May 20.
The district's overall D rating has not improved since Hickman began. Hickman indicated earlier this year that individual schools in the district have had increasing grades. He said the Mississippi Department of Education has changed how it derives letter grades and that those changes have kept CMSD from improving to a C rating.
But Hickman's tenure has not been without its share of public scandals. When first hired, he created the position of director of schools and recommended his wife's uncle, Leslie Smith, for the position, which would have paid $70,000 per year. The board voted to hire Smith, but once controversy erupted over Hickman's relation to Smith, the board received a letter reportedly signed by Smith declining the position. Smith later said he never sent the letter and that the district denied him the position. Smith filed suit in 2015, and the case was settled last fall when the district agreed to pay Smith $17,500 through an insurance policy.
Hickman also became involved in a scandal when he released a press release last April claiming someone had created false text messages alleging he had been having an affair, and that the intention of the created texts was to hurt the school district. In July, former Columbus High student LaVuntae Lashley claimed he and Hickman had an affair and that the texts were real. The Dispatch obtained copies of a recording of a phone conversation in which a man asks Lashley why he attempted to make their relationship public. Lashley identified the other man in the recording as Hickman.
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