January 30, 2013 10:24:41 AM
Columbus Municipal School District Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell assured parents and staff members via email Sunday that athletic funding will not be among the "non-essentials" that will be cut at the beginning of next month.
"Columbus school athletic program budgets are not being cut this school year for games, athletic events and travel and materials that are within the budget approved for this school year," Liddell wrote in the email.
But in two internal emails obtained by The Dispatch and dated Jan. 25 and Jan. 26, Liddell told board members that district athletic programs had already been cut and more cuts were possible next year. The emails were also sent to board attorney David Dunn and attorney Chris Hemphill.
"Athletic programs were trimmed significantly to help get to 2.5 million in savings," Liddell wrote in the Jan. 26 email. "Athletics will be scanned again this budget planning season for other potential savings."
In the memo sent to board members Jan. 25, Liddell outlined several cost-cutting maneuvers, with district management, principals and department heads being asked to trim a base minimum of 10 percent from their budgets for the 2013-2014 school year due to expected cuts in state funding.
"As of today, I have placed a spending freeze on all non-essential expenditures to ensure our costs stay under the bar for the remainder of the school year with funds left to plan from our next school year," Liddell wrote. "The spending freeze will be more evident on the February docket because we have reached the end of the January docket."
Immediate cuts will include limiting professional development travel to "Common Core training, achievement and accreditation training, required (Mississippi Department of Education) and state training, meetings directly related to the employees' duties, and Title I and Title II professional development that was approved in the district's professional development plan."
Liddell wrote that the district's new policy of using rental cars rather than personal vehicles for travel has resulted in a 30 percent decrease in travel spending.
Other cuts will include freezing additions to personnel, and replacement personnel will only be permitted if required for state compliance. The personnel freeze will begin Feb. 1 and continue at least through May, she wrote.
During a Saturday board meeting to discuss Liddell's one-year performance review, board member Jason Spears questioned Board President Tommy Prude on the specifics of the spending freeze, asking if athletics were considered part of the non-essentials Liddell referenced.
Prude said he did not know, adding that they would need to ask Liddell to clarify what she defined as "non-essentials."
The clarification came Sunday, a day after the meeting.
"A spending freeze on non-essential items simply means that all requests and expenditures for supplies, materials, services, fees and personnel travel will be frozen from automatic approval and instead will be reviewed very carefully by myself and the district's budget team on a case-by-case basis to ensure they meet the budget criteria as approved," Liddell wrote.
Numerous attempts by The Dispatch to reach Liddell for comment were unsuccessful.
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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