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February 16, 2013 11:30:10 PM
The Columbus City Council will make its yearly appointment to the Columbus Municipal School District's Board of Trustees Tuesday. The five-year appointment will be for the seat currently held by board president Tommy Prude, whose term expires March 2. Investment specialist Jason Spears was the council's most recent board appointment. He replaced Bruce Hanson in 2012.
Prude has reapplied for the position and is one of four applicants. Rev. James Samuel, Antwann Richardson of Regions Bank, and Angela Verdell, director of diversity programs and student development at MSU's Bagley College of Engineering, have also submitted applications for the position. Verdell is the former city drug court administrator. She left the position in 2010.
Retired educator Pamela Whitney withdrew her application Friday due to health issues within her family.
Council members will make motions on which candidate they would like to appoint and must receive a majority vote for the motion to be approved. Mayor Robert Smith will have the final vote in case of a tie.
The appointment comes at a pivotal time for the school board, which has been heavily criticized for excessive spending and a lack of transparency. The school board also may face new challenges in the future as an extended charter schools bill and other education-related bills are making their way through the Legislature. A new curriculum, the Common Core State Standards, will also be implemented in the next school year.
"The school district is at a critical junction," Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem said. "The next person (on the board) is going to have to deal with some issues. We need someone who has the best interest of the children and community at heart. They are going to have to do some things differently. The city and the school district are joined at the hip. I'm looking for someone that will communicate with us and the taxpayers. Transparency is the key."
The school board also faces some academic challenges. According to the Mississippi Department of Education, the CMSD remains on academic watch for the third consecutive year. The district also received a "D" and its Quality of Distribution Index dropped one point from 143 to 142, according to a report in September 2012. None of the district's schools received "A" or "B" ratings.
Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box, who has been critical of the board's at-will millage requests, said he hopes the appointee will be conscious of what can be done to improve the district's test scores.
"The school board seems to be out of sorts and a little dysfunctional," Box said. "I hope the next person can help bring it together. It's not that we have bad teachers -- we have some great teachers. I think there are some problems at the top. My biggest concerns are the board's fiscal responsibilities and getting our test scores up."
Fiscal accountability is another challenge the school board will face in the coming year. With a budget of $40.5 million, which is almost double that of the city's operating budget, and a millage rate of 65.97 mills, the school board will have the right to ask the city for an annual millage increase for Fiscal Year 2014.
"The school board has an obligation to the taxpayers to keep the millage rate down," Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin said. "They need to get a realistic grip. Spending money is not always the best answer. They really need to look at what they are doing."
Those applying for the school board appointment are varied in both backgrounds and ideologies. Prude, who has been a school board member for 14 years, said he wants to continue his campaign for stronger schools.
"I want to continue my commitment to establish strong schools and competitive students succeeding on a global level," Prude wrote on his application. "Strong schools equal strong cities."
Verdell has worked for her alma mater, MSU, since 2010. If appointed, Verdell hopes to increase the educational value of the district for the city's taxpayers.
"I would like to be considered for the position of school board member to assist in identifying solutions to provide high quality education to the children of the CMSD as well as to ensure the fiscal policies of the CMSD are sound and allow the greatest value to taxpayers and all stakeholders," Verdell wrote.
Richardson, who graduated from MUW in 2008 with bachelor's degrees in business administration and communication, wants to increase the quality of life for students in the district.
"My effort to become a part of the school board is rooted in my belief of education being the gateway to a better life," Richardson wrote on his application. "While pursuing a college degree is not always necessary to be successful in life, a solid foundation of knowledge is essential. My effort to become a part of the CMSD is not to attain a position of status but for the impact I can both directly and indirectly have on others."
Samuel, a local minister, has grandchildren in the district and feels he could be a strong voice for the board and superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell.
"I believe our superintendent needs a strong voice, on the board and in public, who supports her efforts to deliver the best educated students possible," Samuel wrote. "I believe I am that strong community voice."
The new school board member will be sworn in at the March meeting. Each member receives a monthly stipend of $200 for his or her service.
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