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Cleburne chooses lone finalist for superintendent position

CLEBURNE -- Cleburne school trustees chose Ronny Beard as the lone finalist for superintendent Friday night. Beard is expected to be officially hired May 19 to succeed Robert Damron, who stepped down March 31 in the wake of a state audit report that board president Stu Madison called "sobering."

Beard, 56, is expected to take over as superintendent July 1 when his contract with the Sweetwater school district ends. That's also the date of Damron's official retirement; he announced his retirement in February and was reassigned after he relinquished his post.

"Dr. Beard is highly trained in leadership, curriculum and finance, with experience in both urban and rural communities," said Madison. "Since his first interview four weeks ago, he has been at the top of our candidate list, and I personally feel that we are lucky to have his commitment."

State law requires a 21-day waiting period before school boards can vote on and finalize a superintendent.

Assistant Superintendent Carolyn Cody briefly ran the district until April 9, when the board hired James Warlick. Cody announced her retirement last week, along with her husband, Jeff Cody, the high school's head basketball coach. Madison said Carolyn Cody's retirement has nothing to do with the audit.

With the help of a consultant from the Texas Association of School Business Officials, Warlick has been assisting district officials with a response to the Texas Education Agency's 155-page financial audit report. The response is due May 12, and trustees will discuss the it publicly at a board meeting that night.

Warlick will remain in his post for an undetermined amount of time after Beard arrives to help with the transition.

The 16-month audit affirmed allegations by school district critics Harold Gentry and Alden Nellis that district funds had been misspent. In a detailed report that Damron received March 11, TEA auditors criticized the district's internal financial controls. They said inadequate record-keeping led to unallowable expenditures, lack of documentation for certain expenses and violation of state travel expense guidelines.

Trustees had already begun the search for a new superintendent when they received the state audit report. In a statement after the board granted Damron's request to be reassigned until his retirement, Madison said the audit results were more serious than the board had been led to believe.

After choosing Warlick from three candidates for interim superintendent, the board resumed its seven-week search for a permanent superintendent. After a series of school and community meetings, trustees used a consultant from the Texas Association of School Boards to narrow the 37 applicants to six semi-finalists who were interviewed in late March.

The three finalists were re-interviewed last week. Three trustees then visited Beard's Sweetwater district before announcing the board's selection Friday night.