Special Master so far bills $24K for schools merger - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Special Master so far bills $24K for schools merger

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Four months ago, Federal Judge Samuel "Hardy Mays, Jr., assigned Rick Masson as Special mMaster to oversee the merger of Memphis City and Shelby County Schools.

Masson was to be paid at a rate of $250 an hour.

FOX13's Two Screen Experience: Rick Masson's billing for services as Special Master (March-May 2013)

FOX13 News has found that with the merger complete as of July 1, Masson is raking in some serious taxpayer cash even if no one can say for sure what he's doing to earn that cash.

This conversation several weeks ago between SCS Interim Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Masson was an expensive talk. As Special Master over the school merger since March, Masson's  been charging Shelby County taxpayers $250 an hour.

"In my words, they're stealing money from the taxpayer," said Commissioner Terry Roland.

Commissioner Roland, who sits on the body ultimately responsible for paying for schools, is curious about what exactly we're paying Masson to do.

"I'm asking Mr. Masson to explain his self and to come up with good reasons and tell us what he done and why he done it," Roland said. "Even though it's a federal case, I believe the people deserve answers."

Judge Mays assigned Masson, a consultant and former city government employee, to the role of Special Master in March. His main responsibility was to settle disputes between unified school board members as a July 1 court-ordered deadline to merge Memphis City and Shelby County Schools grew closer.

But multiple school board members say they can't point to a single dispute Masson helped settle, not a single dispute settled between early March and July 1.

"Ernie, let me be clear, and I've said from day one, two years ago this guy was supposed to be appointed, maybe not Rick Masson, but a Special Master for the expressed purpose of resolving disputes between what used to be MCS and what used to be SCS," said Rev. Kenneth Whalum, Jr., school board member. "We've wasted and spent a lot of money that we didn't have too, because Masson did not do what he had the authority and the power to do.

"The most recent example Ernie, he could have gotten a delay in, did not have to lay off, in my opinion he has done nothing within the scope of what he was authorized to do," Rev. Whalum added.

While it might be unclear what Masson has done for the school system, it is becoming crystal clear what he's charging the system.

The FOX13 News I-Team recently obtained invoices Masson submitted to the two school systems for his services. For march he billed the school system for 58 hours at $250 an hour. The total bill for his services in March was $14,500. In April, Masson billed the schools for 37 hours of work. At $250 an hour, Shelby County taxpayers paid him $9,500.

In May, Masson said he worked 19 hours on helping the merger. At $250 an hour, that came to $4,750.

"They need to come up and justify what he did here to deserve this money," said Commissioner Roland, "because this money could have went to help kids. This is coming out of the bottom line. Before any gets to the kids, he's going to get his $24,000.

The Special Master meter was still running in June, but Masson's invoice for June was unavailable when the FOX13 News I-Team submitted the public records request.

There will also be an invoice for July as well, because Judge Mays has not ended Masson's assignment as Special Master.

In talking with FOX13 News on Tuesday, Masson said he would explain his role in the schools merger when his assignment ends. Judge Mays said Masson's assignment with the merger will end on or before Sunday, Sept. 1.

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