The chair of the Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) board is urging newly elected board member Keith Williams to leave his position as executive director of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, citing a potential conflict of interest.

MSCS Board Chair Michelle McKissack said that while Williams has been “a great voice for the teachers community,” he now “has to use that voice for all teachers, all students, and all families.” Chalkbeat reported.

McKissack described the challenge of preventing a conflict of interest.

“Everything we do touches upon teachers and impacts them,” she said. “It’s definitely a tightrope you have to walk and be cognizant of.”

Board members are required to terminate any employment relationships within the school district, but no specific mention is made of work for, or involvement with, teachers’ unions.

The school board’s code of conduct states, nevertheless:

Board members will represent the interests of the citizens of the entire school district.

This accountability to the whole district supersedes, as examples, but is not limited to:

  1. any conflicting loyalty a member may have to other advocacy or interest groups;
  2. loyalty based upon membership on other boards or staffs;
  3. conflicts based upon the personal interest of any Board member who is also a parent of a student in the district;
  4. conflicts based upon being a relative of an employee of the district; or
  5. conflicts based upon the member’s election from a subsection of the district.

The board’s code of ethics also states:

An official or employee with the responsibility to vote on a measure shall disclose during the meeting at which the vote takes place, before the vote and to be included in the minutes, any personal interest that affects or that would lead a reasonable person to infer that it affects the official’s or employee’s vote on the measure. In addition, the official or employee may, to the extent allowed by law, recuse himself or herself from voting on the measure.

Last month’s elections saw McKissack and Joyce Dorse-Coleman easily win their re-election bids. Amber Huett-Garcia, who was unopposed, and Williams, who was the victor in a six-way race, are the newcomers to the MSCS board.

Chalkbeat explained why the recent election occurred at a crucial time for Tennessee’s largest school district:

The board could soon be facing decisions about district leadership as an external investigation into Superintendent Joris Ray continues. At the same time, educators across the city are preparing for another school year focused on COVID recovery efforts.

Williams, who has been teaching for four decades and will now represent District 6, is a longtime critic of Ray.

In July, the school board voted 7-2 to place Ray on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an outside investigation into alleged violations of district policies regarding adulterous relationships with co-workers and abuse of power.

Chalkbeat noted it has “since confirmed that Ray supervised at least two women his wife alleges he had affairs with in recent divorce filings.”

The Tennessee Star reached out to Williams for comment and is awaiting a response.

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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Keith Williams” by Keith Williams.