Education Matters

Education Matters by ChrisKieffer
Chris Kieffer blogs about local and national educational issues. You can also follow me on Twitter @ chriskieffer.

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"Bridging the Gap" series Online Conversation
by ChrisKieffer

Good morning. I will be taking questions this morning about the Daily Journal's "Bridging the Gap" series that ran between Dec. 27 and Dec. 29. The series looks at the school district's educational achievement gap, the critical need to address it and strategies for the school district and community to work together in doing so.

I will be answering questions here between 10 and 11 a.m. You can also leave questions throughout the day and I will answer them periodicially.

I look forward to the conversation. You can leave your questions in the comments section.

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January 03, 2012
Read "Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America"

That was the question that Geoffrey Canada found himself asking. What would it take to change the lives of poor children—not one by one, through heroic interventions and occasional miracles, but in big numbers, and in a way that could be replicated nationwide? The question led him to create the Harlem Children’s Zone, a ninety-seven-block laboratory in central Harlem where he is testing new and sometimes controversial ideas about poverty in America. His conclusion: if you want poor kids to be able to compete with their middle-class peers, you need to change everything in their lives—their schools, their neighborhoods, even the child-rearing practices of their parents.

Whatever It Takes is a tour de force of reporting, an inspired portrait not only of Geoffrey Canada but of the parents and children in Harlem who are struggling to better their lives, often against great odds. Carefully researched and deeply affecting, this is a dispatch from inside the most daring and potentially transformative social experiment of our time.

Mayfield essay contest finalists
by ChrisKieffer

Posted is a photo of the finalists in the Kenneth Mayfield essay contest. I wrote a story about the contest in today's paper. The first- second- and third-place winners will be announced on Saturday night.

Pictured are:

Front row, from left: Laura Patterson, Bria Burt, Tarsha McKinney and Chickory Copeland

Back row, from left: Andrew Blake Sullivan, Elijah Cortez Atkinson, Joseph Rebentisch, Margaret Ann Horton, Maya Angelou McClinton, Taylor Austin Floyd and Aaliyah Agnew.

Not pictured are Lynn Marie Dunnam, Kelli Collins, Annie Rena Kendrick, Brittany Grayson and Josh Seay


Congratulations to all of the finalists.

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Tupelo School Board Meeting 12.13.2011
by ChrisKieffer

Board approves agenda.


12:14 p.m. Board approves previous minutes. Those include meetings for special called meetings Nov. 14 (approve hearing officer for Calvin Ellis hearing) and Nov. 16 (address suit filed by David Butts against the board of trustees on Calvin Ellis hearing).


12:16 p.m.

Representatives from the University of South Carolina are presenting about an archeological dig they want to do on the Pierce Street Elementary campus. The dig will be about the Battle of Achia.

South Carolina rep called it one of the most important battles in turning the tide from the French to the Brittish.


Dig would include a sweep of the area with metal detectors. They are looking for musket shot and ornaments the Native Americans were weraing. They will dig small holes and refill them. He called it a low-scale, low-intensity dig, not very intrusive.

He said they would also return to provide information about the battle and the dig to the students.

He said they will immediately refill the holes after they dig.


12:23 p.m. Rob Hudson made a motion to allow the dig, and the board approved it 5-0.


12:42: I have fallen behind on the blog. You can also follow updates on twitter @chriskieffer. Eddie Prather made a presentation about the superintendent search, Brent Waldrop spoke about a new AEE award for high performing teachers and Diana Ezell spoke about the process of developing the district's calendar. I'll put more information about that out after the meeting.


12:44 Brenda Meriweather is talking about the district's efforts to add more broadband. The district currently gets 100 MEGS from the MDE. It receives all of it through one pipe from the MDE that is currently maxed out. One option could be going directly though AT&T.


If they got 250 MEGS directly from AT&T, they could bypass the "pipe" from the MDE that goes to all school districts and often has bottlenecks.


Resources like electronic textbooks and Smart boards have put more stress on the system.


Meriweather: Every year we don't find out until the last minute whether the state fill still fund (online services for the districts). She said that several districts have begun funding it on their own, including Lee County, Oxford and Columbia.


Mary Ann Plasencia said that the option that looks best would increase bandwidth from 100 MEGS to 250 MEGS. Would cost an additional $25,000 per year beyond what is being paid now.


Meriweather said that going away from getting the Internet from MDE would not have any effect on MSIS. She said the state has also cut back on its technical assistance.

She said district is already doing its own filtering and firewall.

Meriweather said that right now teachers are limited in being able to use online resources with videos becasue there is often not enough bandwidth.


Testing coordinator Lea Johnson:

With common core, plan is for those assessments to be online. Asks how they will have bandwidth to do that right now?


No changes would be made until July 1. This would be a budget item for next year.


1:05 p.m.

Assistant Superintendent Fred Hill is now making a presentation about the MDE's new "Pathways to Success" initiative.


It allows three pathways options to graduation: career pathway option, traditional pathway option and district pathway option.

New state law requires all districts to offer career pathway option beginning next school year. It allows students to graduate with 21 credits with career and technical course requirements.

Traditional pathway is the standard pathway. The state requires at least 24 credits; Tupelo currently requires 21 credits.

The district pathway option can be offered by districts to students. It could allow students to graduate with 24 or 21 credits.


Hill said offering the district pathway would have the biggest impact for students in alternative programs - High School Advancement Academy (upper grades), School Aged Mothers program and Structure Day program (alternative school). Under the traditional option, 16 of 75 graduation-eligible students (21percent) would be able to graduate year. Under district pathway, 39 of 75 (52 percent) would be able to graduate this year.


Tupelo will be able to offer nine of the 16 career clusters identified by the state.


Hill said career pathway prepares students for tomorrow's jobs. He said that student doesn't have to leave after 21 credits, noted that they can choose to take more rigorous courses their last year-and-a-half.


Hill said this could also allow for more dual enrollment opportunities between THS students and community colleges, perhaps ICC.


Hill addressed several questions about the initiative.


• IS TPSD lowering its standards by reducing credit requirements for graduation?

No. It is not a matter of losing credits but choosing credits. Three options are available for students to choose at any time, but if students start by choosing one of the lower requirements and change their mind, it might require them to extend their stay to get those five credits….Said they are not decreasing the rigor.


Hill said students could change their mind about their pathway or career cluster. They would talk with counselors to plan.


Hill said district pathway gives students at risk of dropping out an opportunity to graduate high school with fewer credits.


Hill said that most schools he has researched increased their credit requirements from 26 to 28 when they switched to block scheduling.


Hill said culmination requirement will still be there. He said diploma will not look different for each pathway. Diploma will look the same. Difference will be noted through transcript.


Hill is showing the board a video from the West Point School District, which offered the graduation pathways last year.



Hill said students will began to develop their ICAP, individual career plan, as early as sixth grade. They will chose their career cluster in eighth-grade but will have flexibility to change it.

He said there would be training provided for counselors. He said that counseling program won't need to be restructured, they will just need to familiarize the counselors with this process.


Every student will have an ICAP.


Rob Hudson asks about the career pathway, 21 versus traditional. I understand it is a strategy to help those kids who might not graduate. Is there any data whether that option is encouraging students to move from the traditional who shouldn't move from the traditional.

Hill said he hasn't seen any data from districts that are already employing these pathways. Hill said district pathway would help students in alternative programs.


Hudson said students would remain on traditional path if college is in their plans.


Hill said the idea is to capture those students who want to focus on career path. Said this is one of Mississippi's major ways to reduce dropouts.


David Meadows talked about having rigorus courses available to challenge students, such as a large number of advanced placement courses and a possibly International Baccalaureate curriuclum.


Board member Lee Tucker said that even with rigorous courses available now, many students choose to merely coast to graduation.


Hill said that the district option would be only for students in alternative programs because they are at risk of dropping out. He said career pathway is careful to make sure students are work ready and post-secondary ready when they leave high school.


Hill said district option pathway would help to capture students who are old enough to graduate and (fall short on credits.)


1:52 p.m.

Evet Topp will now speak about the career pathway. Topp is an assistant principal at THS and director of the career technical center.


Topp: "My goal as career center director is to bring in as many programs as possible."


Christy Jordan is speaking about the Career Pathway Experience plan, which will replace the co-op program.


Co-op now serves 48 students and under career pathwy expeiernce, it will stay with 48 student.


It will become a one-year program instead of a two-year program.

Under the new Career Pathway Experience, students will have four different work options; paid, volunteer, career and technical center intern (teacher’s aid)  and apprenticeship.


Topp is asking the board to approve a digital media technology program, course and teacher.

Enrollment would be 72 students. Interest surveys reveald 82 THS students and 152 TMS students who said they were interested.

MDE has already improved a teacher unit, which means 99 percent of the salary would be paid by the state. The state would need to pay 1 percent of the salary and fringe benefits. Total amount would be $53,869, but with the state covering 99 percent of it, the district would need to pay $4,357 plus benefits and insurance, total of about $17,000.

The class would use the room now used for the Apple Tech lab. It would not require new technology.


Topp is now speaking about "Teacher Academy," a pathway designed for high school students interested in the education field. Goal is to prepare students to become teachers. District's lone cost would be teacher salary. Topp is not requesting approval of it today but is providing information for consideration.


Topp said the district may also want to consider adding hotel/ restaurant management, especially if they do not add "Teacher Academy."


Jason Harris will now speak about THS's possible switch to block scheduling.


Harris said they have been spending time during the fall studying Star districts in Mississippi trying to get Tupelo High to that level. He said that of 26 Star High Schools, 20 of them are currently on block schedule and one is about to switch to it.

123 teachers surveyed about block scheduling. 117 voted in favor of it (95 percent) and six voted agianst it.


Harris said block schedule could encourage more students to take advanced courses. Now, if students are in two AP courses, they have to focus on both throughout the year. Under a block, they could take one each semester and focus on one at a time.


Now, on state tests, students need to recall in May what they learned in August. Under block scheduling, they would take the test after a semester.

Harris is outlining a training schedule that could prepare teachers for the block schedule, starting in January. He said money was already budgeted this year for that training. There could be additional costs for next year because it could require additional staff.

Harris said they will look at the possibility of requiring additional credits for graduation if they switch to block. Core classes would remain the same but more electives may be required.


Harris said goal is to get every student their schedule before they leave in May so everyone could be better prepared.


Harris said no research is either for or against block, but that it is what seems to fit. He said a lot of principals he has talked to that are on block, they said, it is more the testing aspect. He said the college board is pushing to make AP tests available in December too, not just in the spring.

He said teachers would be able to get more depth than they can now in a 50-minute period.

Harris said this would open up more opportunites for students because they can gain eight credits in a year instead of seven. He hopes this will encourage students to take more rigorous couses, noting that many seniors now "let up on the gas."


Question about long gap between math classes, taken in the fall of one year and the spring of the next.


Harris said there is no guarantee with that but he thinks they can work it out. He said that is one of the drawbacks.


Meadows said this would be the fourth time he has had the opportunity to help a district transition to block scheduling. He said he has several prediction equations he uses to make a staffing equation to determine how many teachers would be needed for block.


Harris said he is talking with Kristy Luse about how they will work out sharing staff members for music and band.



Julie Hinds is now presenting about long-term capital project plan. She said she spoke with principals about needs and talked with maintenance about issues that would need to be fixed. They also looked at roof warranties and what would need to be fixed.


Funding comes from annual budget, currently $1.26 million. She said they also have money from the $2 milllion short-term note approved this school year. There is still some QSCB, stimulus money.


Hinds said one of the big things is trying to find a site to consolidate Carver and Church Street kindergarten to second graders on one site. Right now they are looking at renovating or adding onto an existing site to do that. She said there is a group at Mississippi State they can work with for advice.


Another item is new structural space for vocational program.


Under athletics is either renovation of current baseball facility or building a new facility on campus of Tupelo High. Current facility needs a big overhaul. That would require $300,000 for that work or $3,000,000 to build a new one.


Hinds said the field is in great shape, it is the area around it that needs work and that it is not on the high school campus. She said that with the $300,000 overhaul, it would be enough that the facility would be set for years.


Another atheltic project is resurfacing of track at Tupelo High School, which would cost $170,000.


Hinds said they also talked about a few other possible items, potential of soccer field at THS, upgrade visitor lockerroom at the stadium and possible field house at the high school.

Board asks for a future list of these projects prioritized according to the district's mission.



Board approves transfer report.

Board considering personnel report, which includes five additional Nationally Board Certified Teachers.

Personnel report approved.



Board approves claims docket.



Board will look at new policy on teachers tutoring students. Policy would not allow employees to tutor for pay (or private lessons for pay to) students they work with during the school day. It would allow teachers to work with students in those programs that are funded by grants.


Rob Hudson said he understands the possible conflict but he worries about setting best tutors to the side for students who might need that tutoring. He said the conflict exists for lots of reasons and teacher may create the conflict for other reasons than being paid for tutoring (know the family, go to church with them, etc.). He said he worries about teachers who are breadwinners and need all available income. He said when he puts potential for conflict against other things negated by policy, he doesnt know if what we lose is worth what we gain.


Diana Ezell said that she doesn't know of any teacher, if there is a student having problems in algebra, more than one teacher can address that. She said that a coach can work with players before and after they got on the team but while coaching them they wouldn't be able to work with them for pay.


Lee Tucker said district also needs to look at protection of teachers for avoiding appearance of what is evil. It seems funny that every time someone pays that teacher to tutor, they start getting A's and B's.


Ezell said when she was teaching, she didnt want it to appear that her students were failing because she wanted to tutor them after the school day.


Heyer said the district appreciates all of those teachrs who stay after and tutor students not for pay.


David Meadows said that this policy is common through most distircts. It also takes the educator code of ethics into consideration.


Hudson asks about upper-level courses where only one teacher teaches that course. Ezell said perhaps the district could get a grant to allow for that teacher to get paid for tutoring. Hudson said he doesn't want the tutoring need to go unment. Ezell said that the district also needs to look at how it is differentiating instruction. She said she thinks there are ways to work to make sure district is doing the best things for their students.


Ezell said teachers have families and need to be compensated for time after school. She said that is one reason why the district has paid programs avaible during the summer (through grants).


Hudson asks if language is needed for what triggers the grant, if there is only one teacher available in an AP course, could they get a grant? Ezell said that if 50-percent of the students in such a class are failing, the principal needs to look at why those students are struggling.


Meadows said there are public funds available that can help compensate the teacher for those duties.


Ezell said there are also tutoring opportunities available online.


Board approves policy 5-0. Eddie Prather made the motion and Beth Stone the second.


3:08 p.m.

Fred Hill is now presenting a policy that tweaks graduation requirements.

Policy would allow district pathway option for students in the district's three alternative programs, High School Advancement Academy, School Aged Mothers and Structured Day Program. Those students would be able to graduate with 21 credits.


Board will vote on that policy in January.


3:14 pm.

Meeting has now lasted three hours.

Linda Pannel is making presentation about bank bids.

She said she is surprised teh district got the rate it did with the economy as it is.


Recommending district go with Renassant Bank for three years. She said it may take until end of January to go through logistics of switching banks. She said that the one-year rates are really small.


Meadows said that based on information available now, they believe this is the right thing for school district.


Hudson said most agree that the two-year outlook is pretty flat. He said district would be limiting its risk only to year three.


Board approves Pannel's recommendation on bank bids.


3:24 p.m.

Board approves Career Pathways Experience Plan, which includes a digital media program for the career center.


3:28 p.m.

Board approves 2012 meeting schedule.


3:28 p.m.

Board goes into temporary executive session to discuss a personnel matter.

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Calvin Ellis hearing 12.07.11
by ChrisKieffer

3:59 p.m.


Hearing is recessed until Jan. 30 at 9 a.m.


That was the soonest that the attorneys and the hearing officer could commit to an entire week. Compton said the hearing would continue through that entire week, if needed.


3:48 p.m.


Kelly Stimpson is now conducting re-direct questions

Stewart said that Ellis


Stimpson: You said there were fewer students involved in Wave Connection, Sound Wave and Madrigals. DO you know why?

Stewart: At the beginning of the year, we had the same number in Wave Connection. Some have quit the program since Mr. Ellis has been gone. Sound Wave chose fewer students. They used to have 50 and only chose 40 this year. Madrigals had several students leave after Mr Ellis left.

Stimpson asks what happened to the credit card.

Stewart said some how between Deborah Atkinson and Mr Ellis it had gotten misplaced. She said Ellis had told her it had been lost. Stewart said Ellis thought it would be reissued but the board chose not to. Stewart said she was concerned about not getting receipts. She thought maybe there could be a better check system

Stimpson refers to the document that Stewart prepared for a parent. Asks if there is anything wrong with a parent requesting that

Stewart said no, she has always encouraged an open book.

Stimpson: Who chose the costuming for the show choirs

Stewart said Jauna Ellis usually chooses it.

Stimpson asks what information she was given about how much money she had to purchase the costumes?

Stewart said they showed her how much was available in the budget. She said they purchase from someone in Hattiesburg for one show and from someone in Tupelo for the other two.

Stimpson directs Stewart to exhibit 24. The email from Hal Leonard, permission to arrange for three different songs.

Stewart said this was the document she had referred to previously that Ellis had sent to her that she had gotten his signature and passed it along.

Stimpson: The money that was raised for the NY trip and the Alabama trip. Refers Stewart to year-end financials. Looking at exhibit 45 and money that was spent on the New York trip, you said you (didn’t like using money in this fashion, did that have to do with putting Sound Wave in the deficit?)

Stewart: I felt like SW could not spend another night because we didn’t have the money, also talked about going over and coming back on the same day. Every bit of that $13,000 that we could keep would make us a stronger choral program the next year.

Stewart said Ellis did not get permission

Stimpson: Do you know whether any person who receives money for services rendered has a responsibility to report that to the IRS?

Stewart: I believe that is correct, yes

Stimpson: You have testified that you don’t have a personal problem with Mr. Ellis, correct?

Stewart said that she does not have anything against Mr. Ellis.

Stimpson asks if her only problem was with how the money was spent? Stewart said yes.


Stewart's testimony is complete.


3:35 p.m.

Butts: We were talking about (redoing choreography for songs) did you think that was squandering money?

Stewart: I never used that word squander, I just don’t think it was good management of the money.

Butts: Do you know where this charge squandering the money came from?

Stewart: No sir

Butts: Is redoing choreography unusual?

Stewart: I have no idea

Buts: Then how can you say it is a misuse of money?

Stewart: To me, if you pay two choreographers to do it.

Butts: You wouldn’t pay two choreographers to do the song the same way?

Stewart: Why would we need two different dances for the same song?

Butts: Whether or not a piece of choreography had to be redone was not in your realm of knowledge?

Stewart No sir

Butts: But you deemed it to be a misuse of funds?

Stewart: Yes sir

Buts: You are characterizing this choreography to be misuse?

Stewart: I didn’t think we needed to hire two choreographers to do the same song.

Butts: Are you qualified to make that judgment

Stewart: As far as the choreography no, as far as the money, that is part of my job to make sure we don’t waste money.

Butts asked if Stewart had previously seen redoing of choreography. Stewart said she doesn’t know what songs the choreographers are doing. She just pays the bills. Until she was asked to create this document, she had never looked at the (redo question).

Butts: Asked if she discussed the document with Tammy Harrington

Stewart said they had a couple of sentences, maybe in an email. Maybe at church. Butts asks if she still has that email. Stewart said probably not.

Butts: Why did Tammy Harrington ask you to send this to her?

Stewart: She had read in the paper that one of the charges was squandering money and she wanted to know (about money spent this year)

Butts: Did Tammy Harrington express to you that she had believed it to be misuse?

Stewart said she said it was in an email. She said she and Harrington email often and that she does not know if she still has the email. Said she probably doesn’t.

Butts: When did you give this document to the administration?

Stewart: The week after it came out in the paper. I am not sure when I gave it to them.

Butts: Did you ever feel compelled to talk to me as Calvin’s attorney

Stewart: No sir

Butts: Did you think it would be fair to give Mr. Ellis the benefit of these documents and your concerns as you had done with the administration

Stewart: Every document I have looked at today, he has had access to through emails, through meetings. This document is the only one I have created since he has not been at the high school except for balancing the checkbook. Most of the documents I have talked about today have been emails (between the two of them).

Butts He wasn’t given access to the records, which were placed in a vault in central office.

Stewart: I am talking about a notebook full of invoices I have paid. That is the records I am talking about. As far as the records at the end of the year, he has been given those, not since he has been terminated, but he has access to those…..Ellis has never looked at the invoices….That is what the Tupelo School district has is the notebook of my invoices.

Butts: Even if this is this one document or what has been on your zip drive, did you ever think it might be fair to come to Mr. Ellis and say this is what I have?

Stimpson objects, noting that she just testified that she has all of the documents except (the one document). Butts said the credibility and bias of a witness is always a question in cross examination.

Compton: Did you think it was fair

Stewart: I do not know the answer to that question. I know that while he was on leave he was to have no communication with parents or students. I knew he had his computer which had access to everything.

Butts asks how Stewart knew he was to have no communication. Stewart said she guessed it was hearsay. She had no idea who told her that. Said it was the talk of the town that he was to have no communication between parents or students. She said that Stimpson, Keith, Harris, Meadows, Susie Williams, Tami Harrington did not tell her that. She said Valerie Whitwell may have been the one who told her. Stewart said Calvin told Valerie Whitwell he was supposed to have no communication with parents or students while on leave.

Butts: This document has to do with copyright standards?

Stewart: This document was created at the request of a parent after it came out in the paper that we had squandered booster money (Said that copyright isn’t the only reason some of those songs weren’t used. Said there were other reasons. Said that the song “More” by Cory wasn’t being used because it has been redone..)

Butts: “Why was there an asterisk next to “Written in the Stars”?

Stewart: No copyright

B; “More”?

S: Redone by other choreographer. We don’t have copyright on it either

B: “Breeze”?

S: It is being redone and we don’t have copyright

B: “Fire”

S: Fire has been denied copyright

B: :Run The World”

S: We have no copyright

B: “Freebird”

S: We have no copyright

Stewart said that was as of the day the document was created. Doesn’t know what the status of those five songs is as of today. Stewart said she doesn’t not have permission today.

Butts: How do you know those five songs require copyright permission?

Stewart: Mr. Ellis emailed to me a request for permission to obtain copyright….Said this year is the first time she had ever done anything with copyright.

Butts: You had never been concerned with copyright before this year?

Stewart: No sir

Butts asks purpose of the permission for copyright permission form. Stewart said Ellis sent it to her so she could send it to the arranger to sign it.


Butts: Before this year had the booster club ever paid for copyright permission to anyone?

Stewart: No sir

Butts: Going to last year, had the booster club paid any copyright permission fee, whether it was a fine or copyright permission fee or retroactive fee or anything of that nature?

Stewart: No sir

Butts asks if she was aware of Hal Leonard demand to retroactively obtain permission for two songs.

Stewart said she was familiar with email from Mr. Ellis that they could get in trouble but she did not know how much they could have to pay.

Asked by Butts, Stewart said the Tupelo Choral Booster Club did not pay that $1,000. She said she doesn’t know what he is talking about (in reference to the permissions)

Stewart said this year they have paid  $1,300 for five permissions. Butts asked how many permissions they would need to get. Stewart said on one program there was 15 songs.

Butts: That would be 30 between the two show choirs.

Stewart said she has paid for some Sound Wave copyright this year but she does not know how many because she hadn’t created a document about that.

Butts: Do you know for a fact whether any of those five songs required Tupelo to get permission? Do you know whether getting a permission was even required under the law?

Stewart: No sir.

She said we requested permission for those five songs, so she would think if we would request permission, we needed it.

Butts: But did you know under your own knowledge whether the request was needed?

Stewart? No sir

Butts: Do you know whether Mr. Ellis knew on his own that copyright for these songs was required?

Stewart: I would assume if he requested copyright on a song, he knew he needed to get copyright.

Butts you just assume if he requested it, the law must require it.

Butts: Do you know what fair use it, educational use, unintentional infringement?

Stewart no to all question

Butts: You don’t know on your own whether these songs would require a copyright permission?

Stewart: No I am a parent volunteer and I believe that would fall under someone else.

Stewart said she did not ask Keith, Stimpson or anyone else for legal advice about whether copyright was required.

Butts: Yet you made this document saying that it was required?

Stewart: Yes sir

Butts: Did you also send a copy of exhibit number 42 to Susie White Williams?

Stewart said she did not, did not discuss it with her and does not know whether she got a copy of it. Butts asks if they are friends. Stewart said they are.

Butts: Do you want to see Mr. Ellis fired from his job?

Stewart: I want the school district to do what is right in this case


Butts finishes cross examination


2:45 p.m.

Butts holds up a document and asks when Stewart created it She said she created it at the request of a parent who had read in the paper that the booster club had squandered money and wanted to know about the money that had been squandered.

Butts: Who was the parent?

Stewart: Tammie Harrington

Butts: What did she ask you?

Stewart: She said do you know of a figure we have paid for choreography and music that is not being utilized.

Butts: When did she ask you this?

Stewart: After she read in the paper about the booster club squandering money.

Butts: At her request, you prepared this document?

Stewart: Yes sir, as my normal procedure

Butts: What does this document tell us?

Stewart: How much we spent in choreography between July of this year and today

Butts: It says $11,787.45. That is the total amount on choreography. Is that correct?

Stewart: Yes.

Butts: Next to that is a notation that the budget was $10,000. Is that correct?

Stewart: Yes

Butts: What do the do asterisks mean next to “Written in the Stars”

Stewart: Wave Connection did not have permission to perform that song

Butts: As of what date?

Stewart: When this document was created

Butts: When was that?

Stewart: When she read in the paper about money (being squandered)

Butts: Which I would assume would be same date we released the charges to the press?

Stewart: yes, sir. That was the only way we knew the charges

Butts: How did she ask?

Stewart: She wanted to know how much money we had spent on choreography this year.

Butts: You have five other songs down here, I take it at the time of the creation of this document had not received copyright permissions but you did not know when copyright permissions would be received if they ever were

Stewart: Not exactly true, if you look at “More” we brought choreographer back in to redo the song.

Butts: So the asterisk indicates when you created this document copyright permission had not been received. You didn’t know when you were going to get it. What did “More redo” mean?

Stewart: Calvin Ellis came in and redid the song “More.”…That song did not have copyright either….Redid the choreography for that song….The first time we did it was a waste of money for the choreographer because we redid the choreography because Mr. Ellis didn’t like it.

Butts: Is it unusual to redo choreography?

Stewart. I have no idea….I didn’t understand why we flew a choreographer in to do a song and then we flew in another choreographer to do the same song.

Butts: You paid Cory (sp?) $2,000-plus  on choreography on three songs. Then Kellis is paid (I didn’t catch the figure) to redo some of the songs that Corry had done.

Stewart: Yes sir.


At 2:45 p.m, hearing takes a 10-minute break.


2:35 p.m.

Butts: Are you aware it can be a felony to not submit a 10-99 under certain circumstances

Stewart: I did not.

Butts: I take it you told this lady that you did not issue a 10-99 to Mr. Ellis, if she asked that question?

Stewart: Yes sir

Butts: But you went over the fact that (Mr. Ellis) had been paid for choreography?

Stewart said yes and that others had been paid for arranging and had not received 10-99s. She said she was advised that she should have issued 10-99s.

Butts asks how many meetings Steward has with the district lawyers. Three meetings at central office. Steward said Diana Ezell was also there and David Meadows came in during discussion about copyright and Linda Pannel.

Stewart said Meadows was not at the meeting but they had a question about copyright contracts and he came in to sign one.

Butts: I understand the three meetings you had with Ms. Stimpson, there were four of you in there, to the best of your recollection?

Stewart said her records were at the financial office and were not there when she met with Stimpson for the first time. First, she met with Rachel Murphree and Linda Pannel at the financial office. Kelly Stimpson was not there.

Next meeting was late October at central office. Diana Ezell, Kelly Stimpson and Linda Pannel were present. The third meeting was recently, after Thanksgiving.

Butts: Last week?

Stewart: It was the week after Thanksgiving

Butts: Where did this meeting take place?

Stewart: At central office

Butts asks who was present, but Stewart said she can’t remember. She thinks Valerie Whitwell was there, booster club president.

Butts asks about Whitwell’s knowledge of the books, Stewart said not extensively but she has some knowledge. Stewart said Whitwell as at one meeting but not necessarily the one after Thanksgiving. Stewart said she doesn’t not remember what Whitwell said.

Stewart said they discussed all of these documents and it took two meetings to do so.

Butts asks what Ezell’s participation was? Stewart said it was in Ezell’s office. She said the first meeting was a question of how to get copyrights so they could proceed with the show. Stewart said that Pannel did not say much at that meeting and that she does not know why she was there.

Butts: Did anyone at any of these meetings express they were an expert in copyright law, including Ms. Stimpson?

Stewart: No sir.

Butts asks if anyone expresses that they had obtained copyright permission before or if anyone spoke about or produced a copy of the Tupelo copyright compliance policy. Stewart said no.

Stewart said that all she knows about copyrights is what she has read on her own. Said she does not hold herself as an expert.

Butts asks how many hours Stewart spent in preparation for the meetings. Stewart said she did not know. She said she was not compensated for these meetings.

She said she met with Stimpson and Keith on Sunday at central office. She met with them for about an hour and discussed her upcoming testimony.

Butts: Did you prepare some documents at the request of the district?

Stewart: No sir. Everything we talked about here was made befofe any of this happened except for the one choreography thing and that was done at the request of a parent.

Butts: I notice on exhibit 53, someone has written on this with arrows from left to right.

Stewart: Yes sir

Butts: What does this mean

Stewart: said it was from a previous meeting, a conversation with the choral board, showing areas where they had gone over budget previously. She said that document was created at year end 2010-11. She said she was the one who created the document and the one who wrote on it.

Butts: During this meeting with the administration, you discussed copyright?

Stewart: Mainly copyright was discussed at the first meeting. After that I took everything I had on copyright and I emailed it because I knew I was not capable as a parent volunteer to take over copyright process. I took everything I had on copyrights and I emailed it to Kelly Stimpson with notes on where we were in the copyright process.

Butts: What exactly did you email to Kelly Stimpson?

Stewart said they came from the meeting she had with Ellis where they talked about copyrights and where they were in the process.

Butts asks how long Ms. Stimpson had those documents? Stewart said it was either the end of when Mr. Ellis was on leave or maybe that weekend.

Butts: She has had those documents for the last month, right?

Stewart: Yes Sir

Butts: How did you become aware that I had requested access to choral financial records?

Stewart: I believe I might have read that in the paper

Butts asked if Stewart tried to get the records back or to contact Butts. Stewart said she did not.

Butts: Did you not want me to see the records?

Stewart: They were in a locked vault in central office…said she was told they would keep them over the weekend and put them in a vault for safety reason. Said she never tried to get them back.

Butts asks about the credit card. Stewart said Vicky Wilson used it sometimes (2009-10 school year). She said that parents used it sometimes if they needed to order it.

Butts: The credit card had Vicky Wilson’s name on it

Stewart said there was a credit card in the booster account with Vicky Wilson’s name on it. Said Wilson did use it. Said Wilson did not use it to buy meals for choreographers. Said that she did not use it to buy meals during choreography week, to her knowledge. Said the only time parents used the credit card, to her knowledge, was when they ordered something off the Internet. She said it happened very few times.

Butts: Credit card statement does not say who used the credit card. You can not testify how many times Vicky Wilson or parents used the credit card

Stewart: Vicky Wilson did not use it last year because she was not here. She said she does not think a parent would take the credit card and use it.

Stewart said she checked all of the receipts for the credit card. Butts asked wheter during the year when Wilson was there, Stewart checked each receipt for Wilson’s signature. Stewart said she didn’t.

Stewart said if Wilson used the credit card if was for a company on the Internet and she sent Stewart the receipt for ti.


Butts: I am sure you did the best job you could but you did not or could not verify the signature or Vicki Wilson or Calvin Ellis or anyone else? Did you see Calvin Ellis’s signature that wasn’t Calvin Ellis’ signature.

Stewart said no.

Stewart said that her knowledge parents never used the credit card in public. She said if parents had to buy something in public for the show they paid for it on their own and Stewart wrote a check.

Butts refers to charge of squandering booster club funds. Asks Stewart, as treasurer, how Ellis squandered booster club funds

Stewart said that for the 2011-12 school year, the fact that Ellis obtained choreography for songs they were not going to use was not using money wisely. The fact that they paid for songs before they got the copyrights.

Butts: Can you pull out what you are talking about?


2:06 p.m.


Butts asks when did Stewart start talking to administration about these issues. Stewart said when Mr. Ellis was put on leave, she was called and asked for her records. She said she took her records to the finance department. She said she hadn’t gotten her records back yet.

Butts asks if she was ever made aware of Butts’ request of administration for the financial records

Stewart: It would have been hearsay…yes sir.

Butts: When did you become aware?

Stewart? I do not know

She said she not provide for a parent financial reports for the last three years, last name was Williams. She sent him the end of the year records for the last three years.

Butts: Did you send him all of the records you have testified about today?

Williams said she sent him year-end financial reports for last three years.

Butts: So they have it and have had it, Mr. Williams has it but it is not here today?

Stewart: No sir

Butts: You have met on multiple occasions with attorneys for the district?

Stewart: yes sir, (3 occasions, maybe four or five hours total)

Butts: Have you met with any other members of the administration concerning the booster club records?

Stewart: No sir

Stewart said that Rachel Murphree questioned her at length about the records in mid October. Was at the financial office, downtown, not at the central office.

Butts: How long is at length?

Stewart: I guess I was there two and a half hours

Butts: What did the two of you do for those two and a half hours?

Stewart: She wanted to know how the account worked. She asked specific questions about how I kept my records. About a 10-99, that was real important to her.

Butts: What is a 10-99?

Stewart: She is an accountant and I am not

Butts: What is a 10-99?

Stewart: It is a document if a person makes a certain amount they should be sent and they should be turning it in on their taxes.

Butts: A 10-99 is issued to a person who you pay money to for their taxes who is not your employee

So you were talking to this lady who was auditing these books and she was particularly interested in why you didn’t issue a 10-99 to Calvin Ellis?

Stewart: She asked if I had issued any 10-99s and I said the only person I had issued a 10-99 to was (the choreographer in California).

Butts: Don’t you know whether they ask for them or not, you are required to issue one to them?

Stewart: No sir, I am a parent volunteer.

Buts: But you are the treasurer and have a finance degree



1:55 p.m.


Butts ask about structure of committees for the show choirs. He said that the band doesn’t have that set-up to his knowledge. Stewart said that is also her impression.

Butts: What is Wave Connection?

Stewart: It is a show choir group. It has boys and girls.

Butts: How does a student get into Wave Connection

Stewart: They have tryouts

Stewart said Sound Wave is an all girl group. It also has tryouts for students to get in.

Butts asks how many committees there are for each show choir. Stewart said that she can’t say for sure. Said each committee has a chair person and those committees also have their own budgets that the chair person oversees. Examples are sets and hospitality.

Hotel and motel rooms fall under competition, Stewart said. Said that is not a specific committee. Said that Ellis is over that budget.

Butts refers Stewart to exhibit 53, the budget. She said there are costume, publicity set and hospitality committees with their own budgets. Different people in those committees do what is shown on the budget.

Each committee has a chair person responsible for the budget for that committee.

Butts: Over the two years you were treasurer did any committees go over budget

Said Costume did, publicity didn’t, sets did a little bit and hospitality didn’t. She said that competitions did.

Butts: If you were going to assign blame to someone for going over budget for costumes, that would be the chair person of the costume committee?

Stewart: Yes sir.

Similar questions for each of the committees.

Butts: One person responsible for competitions and that is Mr. Ellis, correct?

Stewart: Yes sir

Butts: You may start out with an idea of what each group’s budget may be and that may go out of budget

Stewart: Yes sir, but we try not to overspend and spend money we don’t have yet.

Butts: Is that really the way it works?

Stewart: When you have bills to pay, you really don’t have much choice.

Butts: What do you do if a bill comes in over budget?

Stewart: I pay the bill

Butts: Where do you get the money?

Stewart: It is just one account, so you are borrowing from the general chorus to pay the Wave Connection bills.

Stewart said she thinks it is a problem because there are more people in general chorus than in the show choir and that money belongs in student accounts.

Butts: Would the general chorus account ever get paid back?

Stewart: When Sound Wave started out in the hole, they start out separately. I fix that with Sound Wave money from the next year.

Sound Wave started off $900 in the red.

Stewart: This is one bank account.

Butts: That you pay bills out of for all of the various committees?

Stewart: Yes sir

Butts: I take what you are saying that you can’t pick out $1 and say this belongs to set committee, etc. You can’t say that right?

Stewart: I don’t understand the question.

Butts: I assumed there had been five different accounts, but you are telling me all of the money that is raised goes into one account?

Stewart: It is all in one bank account/

Butts: But you have a budget for each committee

Stewart said it is something to go by to help them stay in the amount of money they are going to raise.

Butts: Are your budgets written in stone?

Stewart: No sir

Butts: You are keeping track of how everyone is performing as far as their budget is concerned? You can call someone like a costume chairman and say you have run out of money, you can’t buy more money for costumes.

Stewart: They do not do that. They know how much money they have to spend and they are adults.

Butts: What if they go over budget?

Stewart: That happens sometimes and it is the costume committee’s fault and the costume committee takes the blunt of it.

Stewart said that sometimes Ellis orders costumes without permission of costume committee chairperson. Said there is nothing wrong with that.

Butts: You have eight different committees that are in budget or out of budget at various times during the course of your fiscal year?


Butts for the 2010-11 year do you know how much you had in choral booster account on July 1, 2010?

Stewart: Not off top of my head (Said it was thousands of dollars). Said that most of that money is in student accounts. WE are only talking about one account, but keep up with Wave Connection, Sound Wave, Structure, Madrigal….

Butts: I am beginning to understand, please excuse my ignorance. What you have is ledge entries where you have a booster club account that has the money but on paper somewhere else you are keeping track of what that money is comprised of for student accounts. Is that what you are saying?...

Butts: Do the student accounts on any particular day total the amount of money in student accounts?

Stewart: No Sir

Butts: Why not?

Stewart: When students graduate if they have any money in their fund it goes into general chorus account balance

Butts: As I understand on the first day of the year you are positive in your account because of accumulation of unspent funds from students who have graduated.

Stewart: Yes sir.

Butts: Are you saying Mr. Ellis went over the budget he was responsible for and that is the competition budget (2010-11 school year)

Stewart: Yes sir

Butts: And for previous year

Stewart: Said she doesn’t recall

Stewart said set budget was over by $300, costume budget was over by about $1,000.

Butts: How much was Mr. Ellis over for 2010 competitions?

Stewart: We budgeted $15,000 and spent $16,966 for one competition. Normally that was going to pay for two competitions.

Butts: Why did it take $16,966 for one competition?

Stewart: He allowed Wave Connection to stay one extra night and they all went out to eat at a nice restaurant and they had a party that cost $2,000.

Butts: Did you object to that?

Stewart: I did object to him using the New York money to go to competition and I told him that. We should have banked that New York money.

Butts: How was the NY money raised?

Stewart: By having different fundraisers throughout the year

Butts: Who raised the money?

Stewart: Sound Wave , Wave Connection and Structure parents.

Stewart said only Wave Connection got to spend the extra night, Sound Wave did not get to spend the extra night because they were over. She said the reason she would have preferred to bank the money was because they were struggling to raise money in these hard economic times.

She said she wanted to bank it for future years.

Butts: You are going to take money that a senior in Wave Connection raised and not spend it on them but bank it for a child who did nothing to contribute for raising that money?

Stewart: Yes sir.

Butts: That is one problem you have with Mr. Ellis?

Stewart: I don’t have any problem with Mr. Ellis and I think he will tell you that

Butts: You want him fired?

Stewart: I want the truth to come out

Stewart said she does not have a problem with Mr. Ellis.


Butts: I am not saying you have a personal problem. It could have been Calvin Ellis, it could have been any director. I understand what your job is as treasurer and I understood from your testimony earlier that Mr. Ellis was causing your problems as treasurer. Were you having any problems from Mr. Ellis in functioning in your job as treasured?

Stewart: Not sir

Butts talks about late invoices, etc. Are you saying that was not causing you a problem? Stewart said it was some extra work, but she was going to pay the invoices.

Butts: You have expressed your displeasure with Mr. Ellis utilizing some NY trip money to give these kids a party and allow them to stay another night. Were you displeased some other way with how he allocated any money?

Was there any other problem with NY trip?

Stewart: No sir

Butts: Is there any other problem?

Stewart: The problem I had with the credit cards was that I didn’t get receipts from him.

Butts: How many receipts are we talking bout?

Stewart: I have no idea how many.

Stewart said she did not know off the top of her head how many they were talking about.


1:19 p.m.


Hearing resumes


1:11 p.m.


I just learned that today will be the last day of the hearing for this week and probably for this month because of everyone's schedules. They have not yet coordinated when it would resume.



12:02 p.m.


Butts asks if he can have a three-day recess so he can prepare for his cross examination. Compton said no. He said they could break for lunch. Butts said no, he would begin.


Butts asks how long she had been involved in show choir. Stewart said since 2002, with a two-year break when she did not have a child at the high school.


Stewart said she handles finances for the entire choral program: structure, chorus, show choirs and all student accounts.


Stewart said this year there are 165 children in chorus, 49 in Wave Connection, minus a few and (I think she said 40) in Sound Wave.


Stewart said that she has been the treasured this year and the previous two years. She said she was asked by Vicki Wilson to be treasurer, asked by Traci Hudson the second years and by the nominating committee this year.

Butts: I think it is a very big job that you had to handle, what has been the budget that you have dealt with over the last three years. Incomming money?

Stewart: That report shows that $200,000 was paid out for 2010-2011.

Butts: The year before that?

Stewart: About the same, maybe a little less.

Butts: What do you project this year?

Stewart: I have no way to know that.

Butts asks if it will be about the same. Stewart said there are less people in Sound Wave, Wave Connection and Madrigals, so that number could be less.

Butts asks where that money comes from.

Stewart said choral department and general chorus have fund raises and each group has their own fund raises. She said parents have to pay a fee up front. They sell ads for their program and tickets to their shows.

Butts: How much money do you receive from the Tupelo Public School District every year?

Stewart: None

Butts: You received no money from the district this year?

Stewart: No sir.

(Similar question and answer about the two previous years).

Butts: Are you are of the Tupelo Public School District contributing funds to the choral booster club at any time ever?

Stewart: No sir.

Butts: Is the choral booster club, it is a volunteer association right?

Stewart: yes

Butts: I would say from my experience mostly of parents with their children at the school is that right?

Stewart: yes

Butts: You have officers, the president each year, vice president, secretary and a treasurer? (Stewart says yes to each)

Stewart there is a WC representative, SW representative, Structure representative.

Butts asks about committees. Stewart said there is set committee, costume committee, publicity committee, hospitality committee.

Butts asks abut chorus aspect.

Stewart: We all represent the chorus….But they have their committees too. She said that includes chaperones who sit with kids during the concerts and a parent over each fund-raising event.

Butts: Many people volunteer their blood sweat and tears to that program, including you. And I want you to know a lot of people appreciate that.

Who in your experience has been in charge of selecting songs, having them arranged, having them choreographed, teaching them to kids and having them performed for Wave Connection in last year years.

Stewart: Mr. Ellis

Butts: Same for Sound Connection

Stewart: Prior two years, Mr. Ellis. This year we had separated that.

Butts: Explain that.

Stewart: Sound Wave is being handled by another individual. That didn’t have to do with me.

Butts: Who is going to handle Sound Eave this year?

Stewart: Susie Williams.

Stewart said Structure doesn’t have a budget. She said that prior to when she came Wave Connection and Sound Wave didn’t have a budget but she felt one was needed because they were spending more than they were bringing in. She said they come up with income by determining how much money each kid was expected to bring in and how much they expected from ad and ticket sales. Then they sat down with Ellis to determine how to spend it.

Butts: This is a very fluid thing, right. You don’t have hard numbers to work with?

Stewart: We do.

Butts: Lets say July 1 you are starting off with a zero balance on everything. How do oyu determine how much money you will have to spend for the upcoming years.

Stewart: Takes number of students and multiplies by amount of money they are supposed to pay (that number is already known by July).

Butts: Kids can quit or move out, so that is not an absolute fixed number. Do you know that…..On day one of your fiscal year, you may have a good idea of how many students you are dealing with

Stewart: By July 1, Wave Connection and Sound Wave parents have made two payments so I feel they have made their commitment. They paid $162.50 each payment, $325 total by July out of $650. They have paid half of their amount by that time….

Stewart: In a perfect world they would have all paid by (July 1)

Butts: That changes your budget doesn’t it?

Stewart: It sure does.

Butts asks if every parent can pay and Stewart said no. She said that is problem they have to deal with.

She said they have scholarships for that. Butts said other people come in and pay for those who can’t afford it. Stewart said that is correct.

Butts said you have a general idea of how many tickets will be sold, but that doesn’t tell you exactly how many tickets will be sold.

Butts: The fact of the matter is, you have a pretty hard job. You don’t really know how much money you will have to deal with in that year, right?

Stewart said that is correct.

Butts: You have to be flexible, right?

Stewart: Yes, sir.

Butts: Would it be correct to say that Sound Wave and Wave Connection don’t really have what it known in the accounting world as a budget because you don’t know how much money you will get that year and the best you can do is deal with expenses as you go along.

Stewart said she doesn’t understand the question.

Butts asks if she has an accounting background. Stewart said she has a finance degree.

Butts asks her about the company where she works. Said you don’t know how much money you will make, adjust expenses best you can, be flexible. Stewart said that was correct.


Butts: Would you say that the parents and the community since Calvin Ellis took over have been pleased with the performance of the show choirs?

Stewart: Yes, sir.

Butts: Would you agree they have been outstanding?

Stewart: Yes sir

Butts: Would you agree that is a wonderful experience to watch those kids do what they do?

Stewart: Yes sir.

Butts: Would it surprise you if the budget for Attahce (Clinton High School) is twice what Tupelo is

Stewart: I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

Butt: I wouldn’t be surprised if it was three times as much. Does it surprise you that Tupelo comes as close as they do to Attache when their budget is at least twice as much?

Butts: You have seen Attahce perform more than once?

Stewart: Yes sir.

Butts: If you assume, let’s assume Attache has twice the budget Tupelo does, or Tupelo has half the budget that Attache does, are our show choirs only half as good as Attahce?

Stewart: We have never beaten them…I have no idea how their program works…They are equally talented, the kids are.

Butts: Do you think if we had the same budget as Attache, we could be performing on the same level with the sets and the costumes?

Stewart: I have no idea


Lunch recess until 1


11:28 a.m.

Stewart is looking at an email from Ellis to her. He is sending a contract for a choreographer from California. Several songs, I didn’t get their names. Paid her $2,500 plus expenses.

Stimpson asks about the subscript on the document.

Stewart: It said Calvin Ellis and Aug. 19, 2011, 10:05 a.m. (That time was 20 minutes before Stewart received it.) Stewart said Ellis did not sign the document He wrote his name out and the date 8-18-2011.


Stewart is looking at a SoundWave budget connection for 2010-2011. It shows how much was budgeted and spent. The other page is for Wave Connection. Stewart said that Wave Connection was who went over budget. Choreography, budgeted $8,000 and spent $12,853. Music budgeted $7,000 and spent over $8,000.


Stewart said the budget showed they spent more for music after Mr. Ellis said that he could arrange music and save the boosters some money.


Stimpson: Are you aware of an annual report that needs to be made by the booster club to the school district?

Stewart: Yes ma’am. (She said she made that regularly).

Stewart said the only 10-99 she ever issued was for the arranger in California.


Stimpson tenders the witness. Butts prepares for his cross examination.


11:20 a.m.

Stewart is brought another email, exhibit 50.

She said it is a lengthy document. On the top is an email from Ellis to her from May 12, 2011 telling her he received an invoice from the arranger for Sound Wave.

In it, Ellis said he went to double-check things and there was an arranger who had not sent him an invoice. Ellis said he told him the books were closed and that they could pay if after July 1.

Stimpson: You testified earlier that the books were never closed, correct?

Stewart: Correct


There is another email from Stewart to Ellis on May 14, 2011. It provides reports in advanced of an upcoming booster club meeting. Ellis responded that everything looked good.


On the next page is an email with the invoice from Steve Anderson. It said that Anderson is arranging one more song without charging Tupelo. It says, he should be doing a free song for us, right?

Stewart said she disagreed, saying that if he was doing a song for Tupelo, Tupelo should pay for it.


On the next page is an email from Ellis to Stewart on May 21, 2011 at 12 a.m. In it, Ellis is discussing the invoice from Anderson. Stewart said that in the email, Ellis said that he had just received the invoice a few weeks ago from Anderson and apologizes for the stress the treasurer job can cause.


Stewart said in a reply email that she thinks that they should notify the parents  of the new expense for arranging and its impact on the budget.


On the next page is an email from Ellis to Stewart on May 23. In it, Ellis said that some of those songs were also for Wave Connection, not all for Sound Wave.

Stewart said that she was excited about that because Sound Wave would not be as much in the hole.


Next page is Stewart’s email to parents.



11:10 a.m.

Butts makes a motion that this witness in its entirety be taken out of the record .


Butts: It is becoming apparent to me that we are going over document after document as well as assertions by this witness, which I have never seen before. Perhaps they were emailed to me on Sunday afternoon. I don’t know what is correct. My information is that the administration has had accountants pouring over these records for weeks if not months. There is no possible way for me to examine these documents and go over any cross-examination of this witness other than off the top of my head. It is apparent the administration has met with the witness (Several times).

This once again shows how unfair this entire process has been. I believe and I will stand corrected that the administration could have given me all of these documents and the booster club books which I have asked specifically for three or four weeks ago. To subject us now to this witnesses testimony and I have to write down word for word what she is saying and this is the first time I have heard any of this is a total violation of due process to the most flagrant kind. I object to this procedure, the actions of the administration, this witnesses’ testimony.

I move that the charges against Mr. Ellis be dismissed and he be reinstated.


Stimpson: There is a statute under which this proceeding is being conducted. The status clearly states how this process is to run. Mr. Butts knows that t

The statue provides that his client be given notice of the charges against him. Those charges were set forth in a four-page letter, 23 charges against him.

You have made this record numerous times and the statute does not provide for a school district to provide documentation or witness lists. This is non a non renewal, this is a mid-year termination and the administration is complying with law every step of the way.

We are talking about the integrity of an employee in dealing with a booster club and in this case a budget of over $200,000.

All of the testimony from this witness is specific to the items in the termination list that Mr. Ellis received.


Butts: Once again this administration is hiding behind the statute. I understand that, but sending me 140 pages of documents this last Sunday afternoon, why did they even bother? Why send me 140 pages of documents on Sunday afternoon when I am trying to get ready for a hearing that starts at 9 the next morning? Is this their attempt at due process? I suppose it is.

I have not had an opportunity to go through these 140 pages. At this point I am confronted with having to at some point today cross examine this witness without the weeks of preparation the administration has had to prepare her and she has obviously been prepared.

I have been to court a couple of times to solve this problem and I have not been successful.

All I can say is I have made my record, thank you very much.

Compton: You have made your record. The law is clear. Discovery is not required as in a non-renewal hearing. The Supreme Court is clear. For me to take this out of the hands of the board and sustain your motion to dismiss I don’t think I have that authority, I am to prepare a transcript and the board will review that transcript. Your objections will be noted in the transcript and the board will decide. It can be appealed to the chancery court or to the supreme court.


Back to testimony


Stimpson asks Stewart if any of the documents are ones Mr. Ellis hadn’t seen before.

Stewart: The only one I know that he hadn’t seen would be, number 42, about choreography for this year. He has not seen this document but he has seen one like that. He will testify I’m certain that I gave him more financially information than he ever wanted.


Butts: May the record reflect that since these records were not provided to Mr. Ellis with any reasonable time before the hearing that any knowledge Mr. Ellis has of these documents would have to be drawn solely from his memory.

The administration has had the actual document to either refresh this witnesses memory or construct their examination. We have had nothing expect Mr. Elli’s memory. I am not saying he is impaired but I can hardly remember what I did last week. that is why I keep a calendar and make notes. When I do so much I cant remember everything that has been done without my memory being refreshed.


Stewart is now referring to an email. She said it makes it sound as though when the choreographer was in town Mr. and Mrs. Ellis would take the choreographer out to dinner and charge the booster club. Stewart said Mrs. Ellis was not a district employee.


She is now referring to an email with credit card receipts. It is a copy of all of the bills.

Stimpson: Did you have any conversations with him over charges that were not substantiated?

Stewart said she would ask him for receipts she did not have but she would usually not ask any more.


Stewart reads an email from a Wave Connection parent from Dec. 1, 201. Said she heard that they would not be going to New York and said a lot of parents were wondering when Mr. Ellis would tell the kids.



Stewart is reading an email sent to a parent from Auburn High School. She said that when the show choir was in Birmingham, they had a party with Auburn High School at the team hotel. Stewart said she was trying to find out how to get money from the school. Stewart said she spoken with Ellis and she understood that Tupelo would pay for the party and Auburn would reimburse for half. Tupelo paid $1,000 on a DJ and $700 for room rental and also paid for security and food.

The parent responded on March 1, 2011…

Stimpson: What had Mr. Ellis told you about the invitation for the party?

Stewart: That we had been invited by Auburn High School. That we had been invited to have a party with them.


Back to the response email. The Auburn parent said Auburn’s director and Mr. Ellis had agreed that the school would pay $500 for the back…



10:43 a.m.

Stewart is referring to a year-end document for 2010-11 school year. Ending balance for Wave Connect was a deficit of $5,000. Stewart said a trip had been planned for New York that didn’t take place. She said that money was divided out to get them out of the hole. Sound Wave still ended up in the hole, she said.

Stewart said that at one point, she thought Sound Wave would end up with money but after she got the invoice from Steve Anderson in May, it put them back in the hole.

Stimpson asks about the New York fund

Stewart said Ellis had planned a trip to NY for Wave Connection, Sound Wave and Structure and they started raising money in the beginning of the year to get 150 people to NY. It was a trip where each child would need to pay an entry fee to be in the competition. In October, the show choir board voted they were not going to have enough money to go.

Stimpson: Was this a school function?

Stewart: Yes

Stimpson: To your knowledge was this trip approved by the principal?

Stewart: Mr. Ellis said it was.

Stimpson asks about show choir board. Stewart said Ellis put it together in the summer of 2010. She said it was the only reason she agreed to be treasurer again, noting that it was a lot of work, with $200,000 going through the account. She said Louis Homes (spelling?) was going to be the financial person on that board and he helped her. She said that that board stopped meeting after they cancelled the trip to New York. She said it was a seven-member board chosen by Ellis.

Stimpson: How much money did you need for the New York trip?

Stewart: We decided each child would need to pay at least $250, we never got down to specifics of it because we realized there was no way we could raise that phenomenal amount of money. She said it would cost $800 to $1,000 per child.

Stewart said the board met with Ellis and told him the trip was not going to happen because they could not raise enough money. She said Ellis was conduction a Wave Connection practice at the time and went back with them.


How much money was raised for New York trip?

13,707.22. There was more money in that account, but people had already paid for some of that. Every student has their own account for trips. One payment had been due and she had already transferred some money. That account originally had $9,000 more in it but it was put back to student accounts or given back to parents.

$500 per group had already been paid for the New York trip. $1,000 total for the two show choir groups. That money was not refunded.


Stewart is speaking about another document, year end finances for Sound Wave, what was budgeted and what was actually spent. She goes over same document for Wave Connection.

Stimpson: Was Wave Connection over budget that year?

Stewart: Yes. They brought in $71,000 and spent $77,000


Stimpson, after the Oct. 14 show choir board meeting when NY trip was canceled are you aware of any other fund raising that occurred for the trip?

Stewart: We had a haunted trail the week of Halloween at  allard Park (to raise money for the trip)

Stimpson: Had Ellis informed the students that the trip was not going to take place?

Stewart: It was later. I don’t think we received anything from him that it wasn’t going to take place until January (2011)


10:28 a.m.


Hearing resumes after 18-minute break


10:10 a.m.

Stewart is now referring to several invoices paid to arrange songs. Then she reads an email she sent Steve Anderson when she received a late invoice from him. The email apologizes to him for the invoice being paid late. She said that she just received the invoice yesterday and she paid it the next day. She said that she doesn’t know where the invoice was sent but that if he sends the copy to her, she will make sure they get paid more quickly.

In his reply, Anderson said he is surprised Stewart did not receive the invoice earlier because Ellis had it all that time. He said that Ellis had told him that the booster books were closed.

Stimpson asks Stewart whether the booster books were in fact closed. Stewart responds that the booster books are never closed but are open year round.


Stewart reads an email in which Ellis billed the booster club $1,250 for arranging several songs.


Stewart said the booster club paid twice for some songs. She said that in the email from Anderson, he said he arranged “Crush ,crush, crush.” She said that she also paid Ellis in June to arrange that song.


Stimpson: Did you have a discussion with Mr. Ellis about that.

Stewart said no. She said that the invoice from Anderson came so late that she just paid that invoice when she received it.


Stewart is referring to an email from Ellis to her on Oct. 15. It is an email specifying he needed checks from her for various things, choreography, invoicing music, the Ole Miss choir, etc.


Stimpson: Whenever he presented you an invoice, for arranging service, you paid it?

Stewart: Yes ma’am.

Stimpson: Did he ever get booster club approval for arranging songs

Stewart: No….He did tell us at one point that he was arranging music and it would be less expensive for booster club if he arranged songs, so I was aware that he was going to be doing some arranging.


Stewart said that the booster club books ended the year in the deficit for the first two years that she was treasurer.


9:56 a.m.

Stewart is directed to the 2010 Sound Wave program. It shows that the song “Ask the Lonely” was performed. She also asked about another program that shows the song “I Drove All Night” was performed.

Stewart is now directed to an email sent to her and three others. It says that the October show could be canceled because they couldn’t get all of the needed copyrights. The email said that copyrights had been obtained for five songs.

Attorney Kelly Stimpson: Was that true?

Stewart: No Ma’am.


Stimpson directs Stewart to exhibit 24, a permission to arrange contract that she was given by Ellis when he started the copyright process. It has Ellis’ signature. It is a permission to arrange contract.  She said that the payments were made on Sept, 8.

The contracts are for “As cold as Ice,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” and “Fire and Ice.”


Stimpson asked whether Ellis had copies of the music at this did.. Stewart said he did. Stimpson asks whether he distributed it in student folders. Stewart said he did.


Stewart is directed to an email from Ellis about the team get together on Sept. 23. Stimpson asked whether Stewart believed this to be a school activity. Stewart said that she did. Butts objects, questioning Stewart’s expertise in knowing whether it was a school activity. Compton allows the questioning to continue, telling Butts he can voir dire the witness about it on his cross examination.


Stewart said her daughter also attended the event on Sept. 30, the makeup party, but that she only attended the first hour because she was in a wedding the next day.


Stimpson: Did you consider it a required activity?

Stewart: The kids felt they needed to be there.

Butts asks for the question to be repeated again, saying the witness did not fully answer it.

Stewart: The kids were told it was optional, but my child felt like she needed to make an appearance there.

Stimpson: What was your understanding?

Stewart: That is was optional.


Stewart refers to money spent by the booster club on choreography for songs that they did not use, either because of copyright or for other reasons. She said there is another song for this year that has been choreographed but does not have copyright permission. That makes a total of $6,500 that has been spent choreographing songs that they don’t have copyright permission for.


They referred to another $1,700 spent on songs that hadn’t been used. I did not catch what that money was for.


Butts said several documents have been introduced. He asks whether they were part of the 140 documents that were sent to him on Sudnay afternoon.

Stimpson said they sent Butts 50-something documents on Sunday as a courtesy to him. She said she was not required to do so but that she did it as a courtesy. She said that her understanding was that these documents now being spoken about were in that group emailed to Butts.

Butts said that it may have been 50 documents, but it was 140 pages.

He has a continuing objection on each of those documents being introduced.


Stewart said Ellis charged $1,200 for four songs she arranged. She said that two of those songs were performed but that to her knowledge two of those were not performed.


She is now referring to an invoice to Ron Jones for an arrangement he did for Sound Wave in October.



9:29 a.m.

Stewart is directed to another email from Ellis. In it, Ellis said “No news means good news in that area.” Stewart said that she understood that to mean that Ellis thought that they had received the copyright permissions since they had not heard anything. Stewart said she did not believe that to be accurate.

Stewart said that she was alarmed that they had a show in six weeks and that at that point, they did not have copyright on any songs.

She said that she and the booster club president then met with Ellis asking how they could help him, how they could help him to be better organized.

President of the booster club is Valerie Whitwell.

Stewart said that she met with the other officers of the booster club and realized that at that point. that Wave Connection did not yet have copyright permission on any song. This was in the middle of September. They then went and met with Jason Harris. She said the meeting with the boosters would have either been Sept. 17 or Sept. 24 and that they then met with THS Principal Jason Harris on the Tuesday after that.

Stewart said she had gotten an email from a copyright company that they hadn’t gotten permission on two songs previously performed by Wave Connection. She knew those two songs had been the closing songs of past shows.

The songs were “Ask the Lonely” and “I Drove All Night.” Both were arranged by David Alderman.

Stewart said when she heard that she realized that “this was far deeper than I as a parent volunteer should have to deal with.” That was when she called the booster board and met with Mr. Harris.



9:15 a.m.


The third day of the hearing has begun.


Terri Stewart, the treasurer of the choral booster club is on the stand. She said that she would rather not be here but that she was issued a subpoena.



She is directed to an email from Ellis to her. It asks what is going on with the credit card.


In the past two years, the booster club had had a credit card and it had been misplaced. Stewart said she felt it was in the best interest of the booster club not to have a credit card. She said she would keep up with receipts by contacting Ellis and asking for them. Ellis had the credit card.


Stewart said she had never paid for any copyright permissions until Sept. 8 of this year. That is when she first wrote the checks, beginning process of getting copyright. She said September of this year was the first time


She is reading Ellis’ email again. It says that his personal goal is to keep up with receipts better this year, acknowledging that as a weakness of his.


Stewart said that he and Ellis talked about money a lot. She said that Ellis did struggle with keeping up with expenses. She said that organization wasn’t high on his list, that he was busy with other aspects of the choral program.


Butts motions to dismiss all charges dealing with booster club funds because those are not public funds and are not funds of the Tupelo Public School District. He wants to renew that motion, which he made previously.

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