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BOE hires Wardrop as new chief accountant

From left, Attorney Kirk Garrett explains a procedural item to BOE member Mike Edwards during the March 14 meeting. BOE member Kevin Hoomes is at right.

News Staff Writer

The dissension that evolved last year among members of the Escambia County Board of Education surfaced again last Thursday, March 14. The question then was a new contract for the former superintendent. This time, the subject of the rift was the hiring of a new chief accountant to oversee the system’s finances.
Despite the contentious nature of the meeting, a familiar 4-3 vote emerged that made former school system accounting specialist Kristal Wardrop the new Chief Schools Financial Officer (CSFO).
The full board had interviewed Wardrop, a Brewton resident, and Deatsville resident Charles J. Bass — chosen by Alabama Association of School Boards as the best among an undetermined and unannounced number of individuals who sought the job — at length just three days prior to the session.
On Thursday, District 7’s Coleman Wallace, District 2’s Danny Benjamin and District 3’s Mike Edwards each urged his peers to reject both candidates and start the whole process over.
Wallace was the first to speak against hiring either one of the candidates, triggering a lengthy discussion during the workshop.
“I don’t think we need to hire right now,” the District 7 rep said during the ensuing debate. “I think we need to push the brakes on that for a minute. The two we interviewed are not qualified. I believe, based on the interviews we just completed, it would be premature and irresponsible for this board to accept either one of the candidates that were presented to us.”
Edwards, who was defeated in the March 5 Republican Primary and will cede his seat in November, followed suit.
“I agree that we aren’t ready to do this,” Edwards said. “I’m not happy, and my vote would be ‘no.’ We don’t have sufficient candidates with the qualifications we need to address this major problem we have.”
District 4’s Cindy Jackson pointed out that the BOE is currently “paying $850 to $1,000 per day for the interim (CSFO) we have right now, when we could be training the new CSFO we hire.”
Edwards suggested the board not only look for other CSFO candidates, but for another entity to vet the applicants.
“I think we need to look further than just AASB,” he said, to which District 1’s Kevin Hoomes replied he was ready to move forward with the hiring process, and Benjamin joined the fray, saying, “I think we need to go further with interviews before we pull the trigger on a position of this magnitude.”
Benjamin also asked BOE attorney Kirk Garrett if the board could have a list of all applicants for the position, and Garrett answered that he had no such list.
District 6’s Sherry Digmon and the board’s presiding officer, District 5’s Loumeek White, each indicated that such a move would be counterproductive.
“We all voted, and we all agreed to hire AASB to carry out this process,” Digmon said. “I don’t know what we accomplish by knowing how many applied. I feel like they gave us the best people they had to interview. I see no reason to start this process over.”
White reminded Wallace, Edwards and Benjamin that each board member had been given ample information and ample time to voice any objections or ask any questions, that the time had come for positive action on the board’s part.
“I think everyone received a packet last week on the candidates put forth for this position, and we’ve all had time to look at it and go over it,” he said. “We’ve trusted AASB to do several searches for us, and we were satisfied with those searches. I don’t think we should now say we don’t trust them.”
Benjamin asked Garrett if the board could go into executive session and discuss one or the other of the candidates before deciding the issue, and the lawyer told him the situation would be better handled in a public setting.
White then spoke quietly to the entire board.
“Our school system needs stability right now,” he said. “We need to close the door on this last thing and go ahead and make this vote and move forward.”
Garrett then gave each BOE member a piece of paper with the names of both candidates on it. He told each to make his or her selection, sign the “ballot” and pass it to Administrative Secretary Michelle Lucas.
Lucas and Garrett tallied the vote, announcing that four had selected Wardrop and two had chosen Bass, with an unidentified member choosing neither and marking his ballot with “no confidence vote.”
In other business conducted during the meeting, board members:
*Recognized Escambia Career Readiness Center students Herrington Hobbs and DreLan Whitfield, who were joined by instructor Jerry Aaron, for earning certification as an Adobe Certified Professional in Digital Video. Both students passed their certification exams on the first try.
*Approved an overnight trip for Escambia Career Readiness Center students to attend SkillsUSA State Competition in Mobile on April 22, 23 and 24.
*Learned that the system’s unrestricted fund balance (unaudited) on February 29 was $17,729,562.85. That is equivalent to 5.2 months of operations.
*Approved a contract with KAM Technologies for installation of a new network infrastructure (internet and fiber optics) for the portable classrooms at Flomaton Elementary School. The $9,068.51 cost will be paid from savings realized in getting the portables set up and ready. Superintendent Dr. Michele Collier said the expense might be reimbursable through E-Rate.
*Approved a contract with Bailey Education Group for administrator training and coaching of new principals at Escambia County High (Layton Knight) and Pollard McCall Junior High (Junia Fischer). The cost ($24,000) will be paid from Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds.
*Announced that the next regular board meeting will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 18, at A.C. Moore Elementary in Atmore. Plans are for the BOE to join Dr. Collier and school officials for a walk-through of the facility prior to the session.
The following personnel recommendations by Dr. Collier were approved by the Board:

  1. Kimberly Walker, teacher aide, Huxford Elementary School, effective June 1, 2024
  2. Jawara White, teacher, W.S. Neal High School, effective May 24, 2024


  1. Jessica Bossard, custodian, Pollard McCall Junior High School, effective March 15, 2024, replacing Samantha Pearson
  2. Vicki Gulsby, special education teacher, Pollard McCall Junior High School, effective March 22, 2024