New Memphis superintendent’s contract includes ethics clause, reflecting lessons of Ray’s exit

A woman in a charcoal suit sits in an orange chair, explaining a topic she appears to be illustrating with her hands.
Memphis-Shelby County Schools board members are finalizing a contract with incoming Superintendent Marie Feagins that includes an ethics clause and a pay bump. (Image courtesy Memphis-Shelby County Schools)

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Memphis-Shelby County Schools board members say the contract being finalized for incoming Superintendent Marie Feagins reflects the lessons learned after former Superintendent Joris Ray departed the district in scandal.

For starters, the proposed contract includes a new ethical conduct clause, board members say. The board voted unanimously to approve terms of the four-year contract on Tuesday.

“I think that ethics clause was necessary,” Board Chair Althea Greene told reporters Tuesday. “It’s necessary for the district. And so it covers the district in the event that something unfortunate happens. We’re able to terminate a contract and not have to go through a long, drawn-out process.”

Feagins, a former administrator in the Detroit Public Schools Community District, is set to begin her term on April 1, and will earn a $325,000 annual salary. She has already begun working for the district under a per-diem agreement.

Feagins’ salary is 5% higher than the $310,000 Ray was earning at the time he left the district. Interim superintendent Toni Williams also earned $310,000 for the role.

Ray departed as superintendent in August 2022 while under an investigation into allegations that he abused power and violated policies. The board ended the investigation and provided him severance pay of nearly $500,000 when he agreed to resign.

Since his departure, and the appointment of Williams as interim superintendent, board members have reviewed elements of their own governance policies — lowering the dollar threshold for approval of professional service contracts, for example, and creating a board policy on nepotism.

The school board approved a new superintendent salary and contract transparency policy after a report from The Commercial Appeal found that Ray’s final salary — used to calculate his termination pay — included an unconventional raise.

Greene said the language of Feagins’ contract would be online within the week. Outside attorney Herman Morris explained its terms to the board Tuesday.

Morris said negotiations were taking place up until the start of the meeting. He said the terms and provisions of Feagins’ contract — which he said was still a “work in progress” — are fairly standard.

Feagins will be visiting schools and community centers across the nine elected board districts throughout April. Details about the tour and instructions for attending it are on the Memphis-Shelby school system’s social media pages.

Williams is expected to join the district as a consultant. She declined to discuss the scope of work with reporters.

Greene said a special called meeting is forthcoming for board members to approve the terms of Williams’ consulting agreement.

Laura Testino covers Memphis-Shelby County Schools for Chalkbeat Tennessee. Reach Laura at LTestino@chalkbeat.org.

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