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School board clashes again

 

Julie Patel, of Columbus, holds up a sign with others at the Columbus Municipal School Board meeting Monday. Parents were rallying support for an indoor hitting facility.

Julie Patel, of Columbus, holds up a sign with others at the Columbus Municipal School Board meeting Monday. Parents were rallying support for an indoor hitting facility. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Jim Mullis and Jerome Stevenson address the Columbus Municipal School Board during Monday night’s meeting. Mullis and Stevenson were asking the board to approve an indoor hitting facility.

 

 

Sarah Fowler

 

A member of the Columbus Municipal School Board asked the entire five-person board to resign Monday night. 

 

Jason Spears made his motion after the board voted against several expenditures for school improvements that would have totaled $1.1 million. Interim Superintendent Edna McGill had asked the board to approve the expenditures, which would have funded a new financial systems server, technology upgrades in classrooms and an indoor practice facility for the Columbus High School baseball and softball teams. 

 

The board denied the expenditures.  

 

Monday's vote marked the fourth time this year that the board has denied McGill's request for the expenditures. 

 

After the vote was taken, Spears, citing the board's inability to work together, asked for each member to resign, including himself. Lautzenhiser seconded the motion. 

 

A back and forth ensued. Spears ultimately withdrew his motion. 

 

When reached this morning, Spears explained why he made the motion. 

 

"The public and myself have repeatedly witnessed board members vote against the students, vote against the staff and vote against the parents of this district and other stakeholders," Spears said. "I made the motion because it would be the best outcome for the school district. We're more caught up on the outside drama than focusing on the Columbus Municipal School District." 

 

During the board's discussion regarding the expenditures, Spears noted that the district has more than $13 million in its coffers. 

 

 

 

Indoor facility discussion heated 

 

The Columbus High School baseball and softball teams are the only 6A programs in Mississippi without an indoor training facility, according to Jim Mullis, whose son just graduated from the school and played baseball for the Falcons.  

 

Board members Currie Fisher, Angela Verdell and Greg Lewis voted against the facility. Spears and board member Glenn Lautzenhiser voted for it. 

 

Mullis, who spoke to the board Monday night on behalf of two dozens parents also in attendance, said the teams suffer in competition because of lack of an indoor facility. Mullis encouraged the board to "Free the Falcon," while audience members held up signs that said the same. 

 

The facility would cost $125,162, according to McGill. 

 

Fisher said that while she supported the idea of a facility, she believes parents should raise money to fund its construction. The district's money, she said, should be spent on improving classroom-related items. 

 

"I would like for the public to leave here knowing that I do think our Falcons deserve a practice facility but also it must be within the budget guidelines and right now we are a D district and we're supposed to be about student achievement first," Fisher said. "Now, I think that there's a way that the parents, the administration, should be able to work out something with other entities, stakeholders, within this district to make this happen. Our budget should not take the hit for athletic facilities when we don't have a child, every child, that has a book." 

 

Spears challenged Fisher's statement about students and books. He noted that during the board's May meeting, the board voted unanimously to purchase $506,000 worth of new textbooks for the district. 

 

Fisher responded that she was "not looking for a debate." 

 

"Every child must have a book," she said. "We need counselors in school. Yes, we need a facility. Yes, we deserve an indoor facility but you must prioritize and make sure that there's an investment from the stakeholders within our community." 

 

Fisher added that parents have raised $5,000 for the proposed indoor training facility. 

 

"I think a more significant amount can be raised and I would just ask that you all consider what the priorities are," she said to the audience. "It's education first." 

 

Spears then said Fisher was "the greatest paradox I have ever met." He said Fisher has voted down proposed education-related improvements numerous times. He also said her facts were "just wrong." 

 

Fisher said she respected Spears' "right to speak your mind." 

 

"I will not challenge you personally the way you just challenged me and the public will have to leave here understanding what you just did," she said. 

 

Lautzenhiser reminded the board that McGill recommended the purchase of the facility. 

 

"It's their collective decision that this would be good for our children..." he said. "This recommendation is coming to us from them." 

 

Verdell said that as a parent of a child who plays soccer within the district, she sympathizes with the need for new facilities. But she noted that Franklin Academy does not have a working heating or cooling system in the auditorium and echoed Fisher's need to prioritize. 

 

The board did vote to to purchase three new school buses for the district for $249,300. 

 

 

 

Parents upset 

 

After the meeting, some parents expressed frustrations with the board's actions. 

 

Mullis said after the board denied the expenditure during the May board meeting, he reached out to Lewis. 

 

"He did say if the funds were there, he would vote for it," Mullis said. "I feel 100 percent that we proved that the funds were there today and he did not vote for it...In my case, he lied." 

 

Parent Bobby McCullough's son played on the Falcon baseball team. His son graduated in May but McCullough said he is still a supporter of the Falcons. McCullough said when board members vote against the expenditure requests, they are voting against the children in the district. 

 

"Every expenditure item on here has something to do with helping kids," he said. "So when you vote down any one of these items, you're voting against the kids. My kid is gone now, he's graduated. But what's going to happen is, when they vote against this stuff, you're voting against these kids. I don't care what their issue is but that's the wrong group for the Columbus City Schools."

 

Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @FowlerSarah

 

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