Wardrop tapped as county CSFO

Published 1:33 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2024

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The Escambia County Board of Education (Ala.) approved the hire of the school system’s new chief school financial officer (CSFO) during its regular meeting Thursday at W.S. Neal Middle School. Kristal Wardrop was approved as the new CSFO after a 4-2-1 ballot vote by the board. Wardrop is no stranger to the BOE as she served as an accounting specialist for the system.
Before voting on Wardrop’s hire, the board held a vote to hold, which was recommended by District 7 Board Member Coleman Wallace. District 2 Board Member Danny Benjamin, District 3 Board Member Mike Edwards and Wallace voted yes to hold the vote. District 5 Board Member and President Loumeek White, District 6 Board Member Sherry Digmon, District 1 Board Member Kevin Hoomes and District 4 Board Member Cindy Jackson voted no to hold the vote.
Digmon then made a motion based on the CSFO interviews – which were held Monday at Flomaton High School – and on the recommendation from the Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) to hire Wardrop as the new CSFO.
Board Attorney Kirk Garrett then reminded the board that they have discussed doing a ballot, and if it decides to do a ballot, he has one prepared.
Garrett said once each board member makes a selection, signs the ballot and turns them in, then he, along with Secretary Michelle Lucas, will tabulate the results. He added that once that’s complete, the votes will be public record, and suggested the board amend the motion to hold the vote by ballot.
Digmon made the amended motion by secret ballot at first, but Garrett said it won’t be secret until Lucas and himself tally the votes. She then made an amended motion to hold the vote by ballot.
Those who voted in favor of Wardrop included Hoomes, Jackson, White and Digmon. Those who voted in favor of the other candidate, Charles Bass of Deatsville, included Benjamin and Wallace. Edwards wrote no confidence on his ballot.
Garrett then suggested the board approve the ballot to make Wardrop’s hire official. Wallace and Edwards 4opposed the motion once the vote was called to approve the ballot.
Garrett then recommended the board to authorize board president (White) and counsel would negotiate the terms of the contract with Wardrop, and then it comes back to board for approval.
“When you and our board chairman get together, I would like to suggest that given we gave our superintendent (Dr. Michele Collier) two years and a few months, that two years would be sufficient (for Wardrop),” Benjamin said. “I hope y’all discuss that and bring that back to the board.”
Benjamin then made a motion that White and Garrett get together to get a contract going and bring it back to the board for its approval that two years be considered. The motion was approved.
Edwards said he didn’t have confidence on the AASB’s suggestions for the interviews.
“They always say all seven of us have to agree on the AASB and when you have one or two decenters there are other organizations that could look for a CSFO to get a wider range,” he said.
When asked if he believes the new CSFO can be trained, Edwards said they could, but there are other issues you’re never free to talk about; can’t talk about it.
“It’s a varied issue unfortunately,” he said. “We could’ve done better. We always have to respect the AASB. We have to go to an AASB meeting every other month, so we’re married to them.”
Prior to the regular board meeting, the board held a work session to discuss ongoing projects within the system and the hiring of the CSFO.
Wallace asked where the board was in the decision concerning the position.
“I think personally that it’s premature (to hold a vote),” he said. “I don’t think we need to hire right now. I think we need to push the brakes on this.”
Jackson then said one of the problems the system is facing now is that it’s paying between $850-$1,000 a day for the interim CSFO.
“Or we could be training the new CSFO (on the Harris System) when the come on board,” Jackson said.
Edwards agreed with Wallace.
“We may have an expenditure, but it seems like we’re going to have state auditors and welcoming them again,” Edwards said. “We haven’t made that much progress getting into our new system for the state being among us all the time. We’re too busy answering questions, and it’s costing a lot of money to the state of Alabama. My vote is that we don’t have sufficient candidates with qualifications to address the significant problems we have. There are other companies and law firms, and I’m sure there are accounting firms that do this.”
Hoomes said he was ready to vote on the two candidates that interviewed for the position.
Benjamin then suggested if the board could learn, via executive session, how many people applied for the position and those who weren’t given an interview.
“I think we need to go further with interviews before we hire this position with such magnitude,” he said.
Garrett said he doesn’t have any information from the AASB as to who applied or the other qualified candidates. Digmon reminded the board that it did hire the AASB to carry out the process.
“I have no doubt they did everything they said they would do,” she said. “They told us from the beginning there were very few candidates. I don’t know what we’d accomplish by knowing how many that applied. I think they gave us the best candidates to interview. I don’t see no reason to start this process over.”
Edwards asked why Wardrop wasn’t acceptable the last time the board hired a new CSFO (Richardson). Wallace then said based on the interviews that the board completed, it would be premature and irresponsible for the board to accept either one of the candidates that were presented.
White said he believes the board saw packets including the candidates interviewing for the position, and it’s time that the board trust the AASB.
“I don’t think we should say, ‘no, we don’t trust the AASB.’ I think that right now, like I said before, our system needs to heal. We need to close this door, and make this vote, and you have to trust our superintendent. She’s doing a good job. I think that’s a board situation.
“She (Collier) has enough that she has to deal with on a day to day basis,” he said. “Let us do what we have to do and communicate.”
Benjamin recommended the board go into executive session again during the board meeting to discuss the good name and character for this position.
Garrett said if the board were to meet to talk about anything other than job performance in the executive session, his recommendation would be not to meet.
“If that’s the advice you give us today, then that’s the advice,” Benjamin said.
Wardrop, who previously worked with the system, resigned in July 2022.
In other business, the board:
• recognized Escambia Career Readiness Center (ECRC) students Herrington Hobbs and DreLan Whitfield for earning certifications as Adobe Certified Professional in Digital Video;
• approved an overnight trip for students of the ECRC to attend SkillsUSA State Competition in Mobile April 22-24, 2024;
• approved the financial statement ending Feb. 29, 2024;
• approved a contract with KAM technologies for the installation of new network (Internet and fiber) infrastructure and hardware for the portables at Flomaton Elementary School in the amount of $9,068.51. Collier said during the work session that the infrastructure will be paid for by money saved on the portables;
• approved a contract with Bailey Education Group for administrator training and
coaching support in the amount of $24,000 to be paid for out of ESSER 3; and,
• approved personnel recommendations.

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