Superintendent shuts out public

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Anthony Morris walks from his car to the hearing after a noon break Tuesday.

NATCHEZ — The public was shut out of a hearing Tuesday that will determine if Anthony Morris will keep or lose his job as Natchez-Adams School District superintendent.

The hearing lasted from 9 a.m. until approximately 4 p.m. and will continue April 13.

Among members of the public who were not granted access to the hearing were members of the NASD school board who are scheduled to testify.

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The board will determine the hearing’s outcome based on a transcript composed by a court reporter, Board Attorney Bruce Kuehnle said.

School board member Dr. Benny Wright said he was instructed not to appear at the hearing until April 13, when the hearing is scheduled to continue for a second day.

Wright said he was not allowed access to any information about the hearing.

“The rules say (witnesses) must be sequestered and are not privy to testimony that precedes ours,” Wright said.

School board member Dale Steckler said she also did not attend Tuesday’s hearing and was told she would be called to appear if needed.

Board members Harold Barnett, David Troutman and Thelma Newsome could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Kuehnle said the hearing could be set to continue on a third date or as many as necessary.

Once the board members receive a transcript of the hearing after it concludes, they have 30 days to meet as a group to either deliberate or hear a final closing argument by Morris’s attorney.

Kuehnle said the board can call a special meeting to deliberate or do so at its regular board meeting, as long as the date is within the 30-day window.

Deliberations must be made in executive session, Kuehnle said.

A Mississippi state statute says hearings on proposed non-renewal of a superintendent’s contract should be conducted in executive session unless the superintendent requests a public hearing.

Morris said Tuesday morning the hearing would be closed.

A few Natchez residents arrived at the Braden Administration building ready to observe the hearing before being told in the lobby the hearing was closed.

Larry Jackson, a former NASD principal and instructor, said he wanted to attend the hearing as a concerned citizen and former district parent.

Jackson said he was concerned about the current status of education in the district.

“In the last few years it’s gone down,” he said.

“(Education) is going to an impact the boys and girls for the rest of their lives.”

Jackson said the district cannot fix its problems by firing all the teachers or getting new students, but he is not necessarily against Morris.

Jackson said the facts presented in the hearing should point the board in the right direction.

“I’m not anti-anyone, but I am for the education of our boys and girls,” Jackson said.

Former NASD parent and Natchez resident Michael Winn also came to Braden for the hearing.

“Basically I was hoping (the hearing) was public because I feel like with a decision of that magnitude, it’s the public’s right to know,” Winn said.

Winn said he is confident, however, that the board is highly qualified and capable of making the right decision following the hearing.

Chamber of Commerce Director Debbie Hudson arrived at the start of the hearing because she received a summons to attend and said she was told Tuesday morning she was dismissed for the day and should come back April 13 to testify.

Principals from Morgantown Elementary, Robert Lewis Middle School and Natchez High, as well as district administrators were also exiting the boardroom area at Braden shortly after 9 a.m.