West Memphis superintendent fired without cause, received 350K in severance pay

Published: Apr. 27, 2023 at 12:20 AM CDT
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WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. (WMC) - A week after the West Memphis school district superintendent was fired, board members are now revealing the reason why.

It was revealed at a special meeting Wednesday, former Superintendent Richard Atwill was fired without cause and he’s already been paid the lump sum of his $350,000 severance package.

“When this came out we were all shocked,” said Academies of West Memphis Student Government President Reagan Walls. “I remember sitting in that meeting a couple weeks ago confused and shocked. I mean my jaw was on the floor because I was like what in the world is going on? And what does this mean for the future of our school district?”

One week after Atwill was fired during a school board meeting without explanation, dozens of West Memphis students and parents showed up for a special meeting to hear why.

The newly appointed interim superintendent is a familiar face to Memphis, Willie Rhodes previously served as an assistant superintendent for Memphis Shelby County Schools.

Board President JoAnn Faulnker says they’re looking for a leader to improve the district as a whole.

" We reach out for someone who’s willing to come to this district on an interim basis to allow us to transition to new leadership,” said Faulkner. “We’ve had this leadership for 11 months now and it wasn’t working.”

Concerns were raised that Rhodes doesn’t have the qualifications to be the interim superintendent. Board member Kimberly Wolfe tells us, the board is breaking their own policy. Wolfe says Rhodes needs a district level administrator’s license and according to his contract approved Wednesday night, he must have it in the next 60 days.

“At the end of the day our community deserves to know that there are board members fighting for what is right and to follow policies and to make sure that everybody has equal opportunities to pursue vacancies within this district,” said Board member for Ward 3 Kimberly Wolfe. “It’s ugly right now but I do believe all things work together.”

The board voted to accept Rhodes contract to be the interim superintendent at Wednesday’s meeting.

The entire process does not sir well with parents who say they just want transparency from school district leaders.

" It’s in their but it’s in their best interest that they build confidence in us and they do that when they do things above the board and a plain sight,” said Grassroots 72301 member Cheryl Roe. “They can fire him for no cause. They say they can. But you still owe us an explanation and when they disregard that. I tell you the confidence has been shattered.”

Rhodes will be paid $600 dollars a day as interim, according to Wolfe.

Action News 5 has requested video of last week’s meeting when the former superintendent was terminated, any and all personnel files for the former superintendent and interim superintendent.

We have not received them yet.

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