Joris Ray out as MSCS votes to accept $480k buyout, end external investigation

Update: This story has been updated with information officials shared in a press conference to reflect a severance amount of approximately $480,000 to Ray in salary and an undetermined amount in additional benefit payouts and to reflect an interim superintendent plan.

Joris Ray is no longer the superintendent of Memphis-Shelby County Schools, the largest school district in Tennessee.

MSCS board members voted 8-0 to accept a proposal Ray made through his counsel on Aug. 12, said Herman Morris, the board's attorney. The vote for the proposal ends the external investigation into allegations Ray abused power or violated policy.

As part of his termination, which his contract recognizes as a resignation, Ray will receive at least $480,000 in severance pay, MSCS district attorney Kenneth Walker told reporters in a press conference following the vote.

After the press conference, an external spokesperson for the board, Renee Malone, confirmed to The Commercial Appeal the figure represents the amount owed according to Ray's salary. The severance agreement calls for a payout of additional benefits and is inclusive of 12 months of health care pay under COBRA. It is unclear how much those benefits are worth.

The exit specifications appear similar to what Ray's contract describes as a "unilateral termination." This kind of termination requires the board's vote and stipulates, because Ray has more than 18 months left in his contract, he receive 18 months of severance pay.

Ray has been on paid leave since July 13. The board voted 7-2 to place him on leave while former U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton III conducted an external investigation into allegations Ray abused power and violated policy while superintendent, a role he began as interim in December 2018.

As part of the vote Tuesday, the board also chose to suspend the investigation.

Stephanie Love cast a vote of present, not voting.

The board tapped deputy superintendents Angela Whitelaw and John Barker to co-lead the school district while Ray remained on paid leave.

In a press conference following the vote, board chair Michelle McKissack said Whitelaw and Barker will "provide district-level leadership until an interim is named."

Tuesday's vote is a final act of the current school board.

Tenures of longtime board members Billy Orgel and Miska Clay-Bibbs, as well as recent appointee Charles Everett end with August.

In September, Amber Huett-Garcia will replace Orgel and teacher union director Keith Williams will replace Everett. The Shelby County Commission will replace Bibbs later this year.

One community member spoke during public comment, requesting more involvement from the school board in the community.

What happens next?

The board will discuss the process of naming an interim "in the weeks to come," McKissack said.

Board members will also embark on a search for a new superintendent.

"Our new focus will be on finding the next superintendent of Memphis-Shelby County Schools," McKissack said.

In a controversial vote, the school board voted to permanently hire Ray in April 2019, then interim superintendent, and abandoned a national search for the role.

What does Joris Ray's contract say?: What to know before MSCS votes on superintendent's job

It is unclear if the board will move toward a national search, or hire someone internal. McKissack said the district would look into "all avenues in terms of a search, including a national search."

McKissack said the district plans to find a search firm for a new superintendent, and include the community in the search.

"We all want to see our children succeed and rise up, and someone who is aligned with the culture of Memphis and Shelby County," she said.

Posed Tuesday afternoon before the meeting with a hypothetical about new future leadership for the district, outgoing board member Orgel said the decision will be left to the new board.

"I have no opinion on it because I'm not going to be there anymore," Orgel said.

He later added: "You've got two choices: You can hire from within or you can do a national search."

Orgel said he will be watching the decisions of the incoming board.

"I hope we have a good one," Orgel said, "because it'd be good for the system to have somebody to continue lifting the students."

What's known about the allegations

Allegations made public in divorce records sparked the external investigation by the MSCS board.

It is unclear if the allegations will be part of the investigation, because board members voted for the scope to include Ray's tenure as superintendent, which began when he was tapped interim in December 2018. McKissack has declined to comment on the investigation when asked by The Commercial Appeal if the board would expand the scope to include information of allegations preceding Ray's tenure as superintendent.

The divorce filings name three women Ray is alleged to have had affairs with.

Of the three women, The Commercial Appeal has identified two of them as current and former employees of the school district.

The Commercial Appeal is not naming the women because they are not accused of wrongdoing.

A secretary Ray oversaw, a former employee of the school district, is one of the women.

Allegations against Ray: 'Dedicated and loyal': MSCS' Ray once supervised, evaluated woman who is subject of alleged affair

There is no timeline in the divorce records describing when the affair began or ended. It is unclear if the alleged affair occurred while Ray supervised the woman.

Ray supervised the current employee when she is said to have signed a non-disclosure agreement about their affair in 2004, The Commercial Appeal has reported.

An attorney for Ray's wife, Tiffany Ray, has not responded to repeated requests from The Commercial Appeal seeking a copy of the handwritten NDA, which Tiffany Ray purports to have in her possession in the filings. The document itself has not been included in the divorce filings.

Divorce filings: MSCS' Joris Ray supervised a woman who signed alleged NDA about affair, records show

Tiffany Ray, also a school district employee, said in the divorce filings two people knew about the alleged affairs.

The Commercial Appeal is not naming them because they are not accused of wrongdoing.

One of the people named is a current district employee in a director level position who Ray promoted at least twice, records show. He created two positions he recommended the woman for, and was her direct supervisor for several years. He indirectly supervised her while superintendent.

In the divorce filings, the woman is alleged to have arranged phone calls for Ray and his girlfriends, who were not named in the filings. She also is said to have participated in outings with Ray and his girlfriends.

Investigation: Who knows about Joris Ray’s alleged affairs? People he's promoted, mentored

Another person named in the divorce filings is a recently departed district employee of eight years. The man listed Ray as a reference and a mentor for applications for his first and subsequent jobs in the district. He worked for several months in a school Ray supervised and was most recently an advisor.

In addition to having knowledge of Ray's affairs with unnamed women and arranging three-way phone calls for them, the man is alleged in the divorce filings to have known specifically about an affair Ray had with a former district employee. A time frame of the affair is not apparent in divorce records.

Laura Testino covers education and children's issues for the Commercial Appeal. Reach her at or 901-512-3763. Find her on Twitter: @LDTestino

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Joris Ray out as MSCS votes to accept buyout, end external investigation