May 16, 2014 11:00:17 AM
Columbus Municipal School board member Greg Lewis is responding to parents who are questioning why he voted against an indoor hitting facility and weight room.
Thursday afternoon, Jim Mullis, a parent who has a senior at Columbus High School, emailed Lewis asking why he voted against the facility. In the email, sent to Lewis and 14 parents, Mullis said Lewis promised sports booster parents in April that he would approve the facility if the funds were available.
Columbus High School is the only area Class 6A school without an indoor hitting facility, according to Mullis. Parents have voiced their concerns with the lack of an indoor hitting facility and claim it negatively impacts players.
Lewis is one of three school board members who voted against the $125,000 facility during Monday night's school board meeting. The hitting facility was part of a $1.9 million expenditure request from interim schools superintendent Edna McGill that included textbooks, buses and technology upgrades. The board denied the entire expenditure request on a 3-2 vote, with Lewis, Currie Fisher and board president Angela Verdell voting in opposition. Board members Jason Spears and Glenn Lautzenhiser voted in favor of the request.
Shortly before the vote, chief financial officer Tammy McGarr informed the board that the district had approximately $8.1 million on hand.
Wednesday morning, the board called a special meeting to approve textbook purchases. They also voted to approve purchasing a special education bus. The board did not address providing funding for the hitting facility.
In Mullis' email Thursday afternoon, he noted Lewis' role at the Columbus Lowndes Recreation Authority and asked him to explain to the parents why he voted against the facility. Lewis is the CLRA's programs director.
"As a recreation professional, we felt you would understand the need for this facility to put our programs on par with our competition," the email read. "Practically all of the children that are in the CMSD programs have come through the park programs."
Mullis requested Lewis reply to all listed in the email. As of this morning, Lewis had not responded to the group.
When reached by telephone Thursday evening, Lewis said he would not vote in favor of the hitting facility until he was sure the district had the funds available. Lewis said he wanted to wait on the results of the audit conducted by the Mississippi Department of Education. During the April board meeting, the board voted 3-2 to ask MDE to audit the practices of the board, which will include an assessment of the district's finances.
"I'm not certain of our finances," Lewis said. "When MDE comes back then I'll be comfortable releasing large sums of money. When the audit comes in and says, 'Hey, we're fine,' I know what it says on paper but I'm not sure (now)."
Lewis said he was frustrated that the audit has not started. During a specially-called meeting of the school board Thursday, board president Verdell announced she had sent the request to MDE Tuesday morning. Verdell waited to send the request until the board approved the April minutes during Monday night's meeting.
"I don't understand why it's taking so long," Lewis said. "I thought we voted on it last month."
Noting the need for new school buses, Lewis said he would purchase those items before a hitting facility. He did say, however, that if the MDE audit came back clean and the funds were available, the hitting facility would have his full support.
"The audit will make me feel very comfortable," he said. "If the finances are the way they should be and we don't have to do anything for the upcoming year, when everything is done and money is there I'll be glad to do it. But until then I won't."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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