September 11, 2014 10:38:40 AM
The Columbus Municipal School Board, with a 3-2 vote, has hired the wife of the district's superintendent to be an elementary school teacher.
During a board meeting Monday, the board hired Adilah Zalzala to be a special education teacher at Fairview Elementary. Zalzala is the wife of CMSD Superintendent Philip Hickman, who was chosen in July to lead the district.
Board members Currie Fisher, Greg Lewis and board president Angela Verdell voted in favor of hiring Zalzala. Board members Jason Spears and Glenn Lautzenhiser were opposed.
Zalzala, who is replacing a teacher who took an elementary teaching job within the district, will earn $42,000 a year in the job. Zalzala has more than a decade's worth of experience in special education, according to Hickman.
Zalzala's potential hiring was initially set to be taken up during an Aug. 11 board meeting. At that time, according to the board's consent agenda, Hickman recommended the board vote to hire Zalzala as the district's special education coordinator. Her salary for that position, according to the agenda, was to also be $42,000 a year.
However, before the Aug. 11 board meeting, Zalzala's name was removed from the agenda. Following an executive session taken up at the end of that meeting, school board attorney David Dunn said that because Zalzala is Hickman's wife, the board would need to appoint a temporary personnel director who could decide whether to recommend Zalzala for hire.
The board voted to appoint deputy superintendent Craig Shannon as the personnel director. Spears was absent from that meeting.
Hickman told The Dispatch he never intended for the board to hire Zalzala as the district's special education coordinator. Instead, he was recommending that she be hired as a special education teacher.
On Monday, Shannon recommended that the board hire Zalzala to be a special education teacher at Fairview Elementary.
Before the board could vote on the potential hire, Spears made a motion to reject the recommendation. That motion died by a 2-3 vote, with Spears and Lautzenhiser the lone supporters, and the board voted to hire Zalzala.
Spears, after the meeting, said that while he does not doubt Zalzala's abilities, he was opposed to her hire because the board had to appoint a personnel director to recommend the hire. Spears said that by putting Shannon in that position, the board put an undue "burden" on Shannon.
"I don't doubt Mr. Shannon's ability to do what he was asked to do but we put him in a very unfair and precarious position," Spears said. "Whether it be Mr. Shannon or any other staff member, I don't think they should be put into that position...(Zalzala) may be the best thing that this district has ever had, but I think that put a lot of people at a disadvantage."
Shannon did not respond to messages seeking comment. Verdell did not respond to messages seeking comment this morning.
On Wednesday morning, Hickman said he was confident in hiring his wife.
"She's been in the field for over 10 years," he said. "It's consistent with every law in Mississippi."
Zalzala is the second family member of Hickman's the CMSD board has voted to hire.
In August, the board, with a 4-0 tally, voted to hire Leslie Smith to be the district's director of schools, a position new to CMSD. Smith, a Chicago-based educator, would have earned $70,000 a year in the position, according to a previous board agenda.
Smith, however, ultimately declined to accept the position, according to a letter Hickman sent to The Dispatch.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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