by Brian Jones

Columbus city schools Superintendent Dr. Philip Hickman was terminated on a 3-1 vote at a Friday special meeting. The decision was made during a nearly three-hour executive session.

President Jason Spears declined to comment on the reason for Hickman’s termination.

Deputy Superintendent Craig Shannon was elevated to interim superintendent on a 3-0 vote with one abstention, according to Spears. He said Shannon, who makes $120,000 per year, will receive a temporary raise equal to $4,583 per month until a new superintendent is hired.

Shannon has been a district employee for about 10 years; he was brought in as special assistant to the superintendent, was a principal for three years at Columbus High School and then went back to the central office, where he has served for about six years.

Assistant Superintendent of Federal and Special Programs Pamela Lenoir will be taking on some additional duties, Spears said, and will get a temporary raise of $2,500 per month. Her job title will not change.

Both Shannon and Lenoir will return to their former duties and salaries once a new superintendent is chosen, Spears said.

“It was a total surprise,” Shannon said. “I know our district has been going through a transition, and I am excited about the opportunity. I will pray for Dr. Hickman and his family and work to make sure that the students get the resources they need to be successful.”

Hickman’s contract was set to expire at the end of June. The board voted 3-2 to begin searching for a new superintendent at a Nov. 13, 2017, meeting, with Currie Fisher and Dr. Angela Verdell voting no. Hickman was formally non-renewed at the board’s Jan. 8 meeting on a 3-1 vote with Verdell voting no; Fisher was not present. On Jan. 17 the board voted 4-0 to hire the Mississippi School Board Association to handle the search for his replacement; Verdell was not present at that meeting.

At a Jan. 26 special meeting Hickman read aloud a grievance letter against Spears, alleging that he had created a hostile work environment, Hickman alleged that he was being bullied and that Spears was going around him to talk to district employees, which is a violation of district policy.

The board has also been scrutinizing about $15,000 in payments to an online reputation management company; the company was apparently hired to weight search results away from negative stories about both the district and Hickman personally.

Hickman was hired on a 3-2 vote, with Spears and then-trustee Glenn Lautzenhiser, voting no, on July 11, 2014. He began work July 28 of that year at a salary of $175,000 and a contract period of four years.

For more on this story see the March 1 edition of the Packet.