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The Arkansas Board of Education voted Thursday to place the Marianna-based Lee County School District and its high school on probation for violating education standards on staffing and course offerings.

The probation label puts both the district and the Lee County High in jeopardy of losing state accreditation if they fail to correct the violations or commit similar violations in the 2017-18 school year. As it stands, the district and school remain accredited.

The Lee County School Board and Superintendent Willie Murdock blamed each other for the district's failure to employ a high school counselor in the first semester of this school year and to offer the minimum 38 high school courses required by state standards. One-half unit of drama and one-half unit of social studies were missing from the course offerings.

School Board member Patrick Walton told the state Education Board that the local board wanted to draw from a pool of retired educators to fill the counselor position and not pull an English teacher out of her classroom to fill the counselor's job. Murdock, instead, reassigned the English teacher to the counselor's job.

As a result, Walton said, the English course is now being taught online through a virtual academy.

"We don't have a problem in Lee County," he said. "We really don't. We have communication problems between the board and the superintendent. Across the board, every organization I know, any time a boss gives a directive to a subordinate and the subordinate refuses to do it, it's insubordination," he said. "Insubordination took place, OK?"

Walton said the board was not attempting to manage the day-to-day operations of the district, but that it does believe in holding the district staff accountable.

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In response to Walton's request that the district and high school not be put on probation, Education Department staff said the district did not correct all of its standard violations within the allotted time period to avoid probation, nor did it submit a timely request to appeal.

Murdock, whose husband is state Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, and who remains superintendent as the result of a court injunction, told Education Board members that much of what they heard from Walton and School Board President Wayne Williams on Thursday "was not true."

"We made recommendations on staffing, and those recommendations were denied," Murdock said.

She said the English teacher was a good teacher but that the teacher wanted to do the counseling job and that, as a counselor, the employee could help a great number of students. Additionally, she said, a person capable of being the replacement English teacher had been identified.

The Lee County School Board earlier this year voted 4-3 to terminate Murdock. However, she remains on the job as the result of a Feb. 23 temporary restraining order issued against the School Board by Circuit Judge Chalk Mitchell.

Murdock has been the district's chief executive for longer than the current School Board has existed.

The state Education Board in April 2014 took control of the Lee County system because fewer than half of its students had scored at proficient levels on state exams over three years. The district's elected School Board was dismissed, but Murdock, in her second year as superintendent, was retained to manage the district under state supervision.

Achievement improved, and a new School Board was elected in September 2015 to work with Murdock, whose two-year contract with the state expires June 30.

The dispute between the superintendent and the School Board comes at a time when the district was anticipating release from the state's fiscal distress program. That has since been delayed.

"If I'm allowed to do my job, we wouldn't be on probation or in fiscal distress," Murdock told the Education Board.

Metro on 04/14/2017

Print Headline: Lee County schools put on probation

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