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CMSD board fails to issue teacher contracts

 

School Board president Angela Verdell

School Board president Angela Verdell

 

 

Sarah Fowler

 

The Columbus Municipal School District will not immediately be able to issue teacher contracts for the upcoming school year. 

 

In a 3-2 vote, the Columbus Municipal School Board denied the recommended salary pay scale for district personnel. According to CMSD administrators, contracts cannot be issued without the board approval of the salary scale. 

 

The district currently employs 380 teachers, administrators and school personnel. 

 

As well as denying the salary scale, the board denied a one-time expenditure that included purchasing textbooks, buses, a new athletic facility and technology upgrades.  

 

The expenditures would cost the district approximately $1.9 million. As of Monday night, Chief Financial Officer Tammy McGarr said the district has approximately $8.1 million on hand.  

 

Board members Jason Spears and Glenn Lautzenhiser voted in favor of the expenditures and employee contracts with board members Currie Fisher, Angela Verdell and Greg Lewis voting against. 

 

After the vote, Spears asked to move "such other matters that may come before the board," an item listed after executive session, to the board's next topic of discussion. Spears said he intended to bring the matter of the one-time expenditures up again and wanted taxpayers to hear the discussion. 

 

His request was voted down in the same 3-2 vote. 

 

After executive session, the board resumed the conversation about the expenditure. Board attorney David Dunn informed the board that they could be in violation of the Mississippi School Board bylaws if they denied the superintendent's request to buy textbooks and buses. 

 

"I'm concerned that not purchasing textbooks...could be a violation of that standard," Dunn said. "A greater concern to me is not purchasing a school bus." 

 

Dunn then noted the aging school bus fleet, and said he was concerned about students' safety and the board's responsibility for student safety. Deputy superintendent Craig Shannon recommended the board purchase 12 new buses, three due to advanced age and condition of the buses. 

 

"I feel like if the superintendent has recommended we replace three because of age, there is a safety issue, and therefore you've got exposure," Dunn said. "It's important for the trustees not to put themselves in that position." 

 

Board members then reversed course and unanimously voted to purchase new textbooks and one special education bus. The 11 remaining requested buses went unapproved. 

 

However, even though the board unanimously approved purchasing the textbooks and bus, earlier in the evening they skipped the line item on the agenda that would have increased funding. According to Interim Superintendent Edna McGill, without the board approving a budget increase from the fund balance, the buses and textbooks cannot be purchased. 

 

At the request of Spears, the board then went line item by line item on the one-time expenditures. 

 

In each vote, the board denied approving the line items. Each vote was 3-2 with Spears and Lautzenhiser in favor and Fisher, Verdell and Lewis opposed. 

 

Monday night's meeting is the third time McGill has recommended the one-time expenditure. 

 

Referencing one of the expenditure requests, Spears asked McGill why the district needed $780,051 in technology upgrades. 

 

McGill explained that due to Common Core and state standards, students in the district would need more individual time on computers. To support that need, the district's technology system requires an upgrade. 

 

As Spears was speaking to McGill, Verdell interrupted him and told him he had one minute to finish speaking. 

 

During last month's meeting, the board put time limits on parts of the agenda. Discussion on "such other matters that may come before the board" does not have a board-imposed time limit, however. 

 

Spears continued and asked McGill if not having supporting technology put the district's technology magnet school status in jeopardy. Verdell told Spears his time was up. Spears responded, " I have 15 seconds." Verdell responded by counting down, saying, "14, 13, come on, let's go." 

 

McGill responded that the magnet school is not currently in jeopardy but the upgrades are greatly needed. 

 

Spears began to speak to board members about his concerns of board actions and whether they were legal when Verdell again cut him off. 

 

The board then got into a dispute about whether or not the meeting could properly adjourn. The board voted 4-1 to adjourn with Spears opposed. 

 

After the meeting, Verdell, who speaks for the board in her role as board president, declined to comment, instead asking for an email of questions. As of press time, she had not responded to the questions.

 

Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.

 

 

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