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Mississippi State Superintendent of...

Mississippi State Superintendent of Education nomination could be in jeopardy

By: Anne Summerhays - March 26, 2023

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Robert Taylor (photo from the University of Southern Mississippi).

Update: Multiple anonymous sources close to the situation indicated over the weekend that Dr. Robert Taylor would not be confirmed as State Superintendent of Education and Carra Powell would not be confirmed to the State Board of Education. Powell’s nomination was killed Sunday night in the Senate Education Committee. Dr. Taylor’s nomination died on the floor of the Mississippi Senate on Wednesday, by a vote of 21 ayes and 31 nays.

Multiple sources, both within the Mississippi Senate and close to the hiring process for the State Superintendent of Education, spoke to Magnolia Tribune on the condition of anonymity this weekend about the likely fate of Dr. Robert Taylor’s nomination to the post. The common thread was that Dr. Taylor is unlikely to receive needed confirmation from the Mississippi Senate.

After conducting a national search, the State Board of Education (SBE) named Dr. Robert Taylor Mississippi’s new State Superintendent of Education on November 21, 2022. Dr. Taylor, a 30-year veteran educator and deputy state superintendent for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, began his role in January 2023.

Rosemary Aultman, SBE Chair, said Dr. Taylor possesses all of the qualities the Board sought for the next state superintendent of education.

“He brings extensive leadership experience at the school, district and state levels and the skill and commitment needed to continuously improve student achievement statewide,” Aultman said. “Mississippi has become a national leader for improving student outcomes. The Board is confident we selected the right person to lead our state to achieve at even higher levels.”

Concerns Raised in New Subcommittee’s Hearing on Nomination

However, as the 2023 Mississippi Legislative session nears an end (sine die is April 2nd), a date has not been set for a confirmation vote on Dr. Taylor’s nomination.

The first sign of potential trouble for the nomination came when the Senate formed a new three-person “Education Nomination Subcommittee.” Senate Subcommittee Chairman Chris Johnson (R) invited Dr. Taylor to answer questions about his background, his philosophy on education, and how he plans to manage the Department of Education.

“I thought it would be best to be transparent as possible and have a hearing where we will not be voting today, but have a hearing where we could allow Dr. Taylor to answer questions that committee members have as well as other members of the Senate,” Chairman Johnson said.

During the course of the hearing, SBE Chair Aultman and Dr. Taylor faced pointed questions about the hiring process and Dr. Taylor’s background. Questions about process drew heavily from a PEER Staff Legislative Assistance Memo regarding the Mississippi Board of Education’s State Superintendent selection process.

READ MORE: PEER Memo Raises Questions about Hiring Process for State Superintendent of Education

Sources Indicate Nomination Could be in Jeopardy

The nomination ultimately passed out of the Subcommittee by a 2-1 vote, with Sen. Angela Hill voting against. But to be confirmed, the nomination must report out of the full Senate Education Committee and receive a vote on the Senate floor.

Magnolia Tribune spoke with multiple sources in the Senate and close to the hiring of Dr. Taylor. All indicated that Dr. Taylor’s nomination is in jeopardy.

A Senator with knowledge of the situation said the votes aren’t there by a big margin. They explained that it is up to the Senate Education Chairman to bring up the nomination in a meeting, but would be surprised if it comes up for a vote.

Senate Education Chairman Dennis Debar did not respond to request for comment. State Senator David Blount, Vice-Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, told the Magnolia Tribune that he couldn’t confirm the claim.

“I support Dr. Taylor but cannot say how other Senators will vote,” Senator Blount said.

State Senator Michael McLendon, a member of the Senate Education Committee, said he “wouldn’t count on anything around here until it happens.”

“I wouldn’t count on anything around here until it happens,” McLendon said. “Whether that is a bill that would help everyone in the State; or something that is so far out there you think that will never pass then the next thing you know the Governor is signing it into law.”

What Happens if Senate Does Not Confirm

According to the revised 2015 Senate Confirmation Manual, the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER ) reviewed the possible consequences of Senate action on appointments and concluded that:

  • Failures to confirm an appointee generally result in a vacancy in office that shall not be filled until the Senate can next meet to concur in an appointment.
  • Inaction by a Senate committee to which an appointment has been referred does not constitute a tacit confirmation and such inaction results in a vacancy in office that cannot be filled until the Senate can concur in a future appointment.
  • In some instances, the Governor may not revoke an appointment prior to Senate review of the appointment.
  • Appointees with terms set by law may hold over in office if their successor is not qualified to take office.

Were the Senate not to act to confirm, it is possible that the State Board of Education could make Dr. Taylor the interim State Superintendent of Education until the Senate reconvenes, presumably in 2024, and takes up his nomination. It is also possible that the State Board of Education names a new interim and restarts its search for a candidate.

In addition to Dr. Taylor’s nomination, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves’ nomination of Carra Powell to the State Board of Education, has not been scheduled for a vote. Our sources indicate that Powell is also in danger of not being confirmed.

UPDATE: Sunday, March 26th at 5:40 p.m.

At the time the original article went to press Sunday morning, the Senate Education Committee had no meetings scheduled. Late Sunday, a meeting was added to the schedule for 5:15 p.m. The Senate Education Committee held a meeting after adjournment. Consistent with what our sources had told Magnolia Tribune on Saturday, the Committee tabled the nomination of Powell to the State Board of Education. This means Powell will not be confirmed.

Click here to watch the committee meeting.

State Senator Sollie Norwood (D) made the motion to table Powell’s nomination. He said that the motion was made because he had questions after looking at Powell’s qualifications regarding whether she would be qualified to serve the Board and set policies for K-12 education. Senator Brice Wiggins (R) pointed out that PEER had determined that Powell met the statutory requirements to serve.

Senator Mike McClendon (R) and Senator David Jordan (D) raised concerns about Powell’s affiliation with a non-profit that advocates for public charter schools in Tennessee. Senator Angela Hill (R) noted that Mississippi had charter schools and questioned why Powell’s support of public charters would be an impediment to her nomination.

In closing on his motion, Norwood said, “This was not some motion that was taken lightly, because I do agree and I think the Governor has a right to appoint, but we as a body also have a right to this so I respectfully reaffirm my motion to table.”

The vote on the motion to table was done by voice vote, meaning that Senators were not required to state their individual positions. Chairman Dennis Debar ruled that the Committee, which includes a Republican majority, had voted in favor of tabling the Governor’s appointment.

Chairman DeBar explained that once the nomination is tabled, the nomination is dead after sine die and then the seat will be vacant, unless it isn’t brought up in another committee hearing. The Governor can then reappoint or appoint an individual to the vacant seat.

The Senate Education Committee did not vote on the nomination of State Superintendent of Education Dr. Robert Taylor. Chairman Debar did express concern about the process used to hire Dr. Taylor. He noted that the Committee would be working over the summer to improve the process and apply it to future hires. He indicated that he wanted the Mississippi Department of Education to be present when Dr. Taylor’s nomination was addressed.

About the Author(s)
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Anne Summerhays

Anne Summerhays is a recent graduate of Millsaps College where she majored in Political Science, with minors in Sociology and American Studies. In 2021, she joined Y’all Politics as a Capitol Correspondent. Prior to making that move, she interned for a congressional office in Washington, D.C. and a multi-state government relations and public affairs firm in Jackson, Mississippi. While at Millsaps, Summerhays received a Legislative Fellowship with the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi where she worked with an active member of the Mississippi Legislature for the length of session. She has quickly established trust in the Capitol as a fair, honest, and hardworking young reporter. Her background in political science helps her cut through the noise to find and explain the truth. Email Anne: