Article Comment 

David Armstrong: Columbus chief operations officer responds to school board




This letter is in response to "The Columbus School Board Responds" article in yesterday''s Commercial Dispatch, allegedly written by Currie Fisher, Bruce Hanson, Glenn Lautzenhiser, Tommy Prude and Alma Turner, who currently hold the position of Columbus Municipal School District Board of Trustees.  


I want to congratulate these five individuals for getting together and drafting such a well-composed, misstatement of the truth.  


They stated that: "According to Lowndes County Tax Assessor, Greg Andrews, the school district has been shorted approximately $1.8 million the past three years, because the correct millage was not assessed by the city. If the correct millage had been assessed, the district would not be facing such difficult financial decisions."  


Let me set the record straight here. Since fiscal year 2008-2009 ("the past three years") the school millage was set by the City at 62.97 mills because that is the exact amount that former School Superintendent Del Phillips asked for from the City.  


In the first meeting I had with Glenn Lautzenhiser, Tommy Prude, Interim Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell, school board CFO Kenny Hughes, the Mayor, three of our Council Members and our CFO, Mike Bernsen, I told Glenn Lautzenhiser what Dr. Phillips had requested, and Glenn responded: "Well, Dr. Phillips had no authority to ask for less millage. He never told us he had done so."  


But there''s more to this story. Last fiscal year (sometime in August of 2010) I advised Del Phillips that his request of only 62.97 mills to fund their budget was far below the millage actually required. I showed Del my notes. He read them, agreed, then said: "It doesn''t matter. I can make it work; I can make it work."  


According to Mr. Lautzenhiser, Del never conveyed this to his Board. When City representatives met with Del Phillips, he claimed he advised his Board and that they were fully aware that the millage he requested from the City was inadequate.  


I Frankly, I don''t know who''s telling the truth here: Del Phillips or Glenn Lautzenhiser. But I''ll tell you what I do know: the Columbus Municipal School Board either knew or should have known that Del Phillip''s requested millage was less than the school board needed.  


And I''ll tell you who else also knew the requested school millage was below par: their CFO, Kenny Hughes. In fact, when I asked Kenny that very question at the above referenced meeting, his response to me was: "Yes, I knew Del''s request was for less millage than needed." I then asked Kenny; "So, why didn''t you, as CFO, advise the school board of this fact since, as they claim, they had no knowledge of it?" Kenny never responded to my question.  


I''ll tell you in a nutshell what''s going on here. We, unfortunately, have a City School Board that apparently "rubber-stamped" everything Del Phillips ever asked of them. I may be wrong, but I tend to side with Glenn: they probably didn''t know what Del did. In my opinion, that''s a pretty lame excuse.  


(And just for the record, Tax Assessor Greg Andrews also told Glenn Lautzenhiser what Del Phillips had done.)  


The City did set the correct millage- the exact millage Del Phillips requested, If the School Board is truly desirous of working together, then they don''t need to pass the buck when the true blame lies with them, their own CFO and their former Superintendent.  


David Armstrong 


COO, City of Columbus



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Reader Comments

Article Comment bay3 commented at 8/12/2011 10:59:00 AM:

Mr. Armstrong:

If you admittedly knew that the millage was too low also, then why did you and the mayor and the city council sit back and just let it get set at a rate that would hurt the district financially?? It makes no sense. Del Phillips requested a low millage and did other things to undermine our school district and then broke camp for another job before the dust settled...but all he could do was request things. It is up to you, the mayor, and the city council to apply common sense to all requests (both good and bad) and make sound decisions for our community. That didn't happen. The school board did not do their job and it sounds like...neither did you nor the city council.


Article Comment trouble commented at 8/12/2011 3:21:00 PM:

Lets face it our city leaders was in bed with Philips. Am I the only one that noticed all The Councilmen and supervisors had those purple CHS Barney suits. Those windsuits had to cost at least 85 dollars. And they had the hats to match. Remember when our city leaders went out of town to visit other cities, they road on the Falcon Pride bus. Oh and don't forget our own mayor followed Phillips up and down the side lines of every football game. Face it Phillips pimped our city leaders and school board members.


Article Comment zipporah commented at 8/12/2011 4:33:00 PM:

When I read what the letter from the school board, I literally felt like throwing up. The CMSD school board has known full well things that have gone on in the system. There are so many in town that have just given up with anything being done about all the lies and covering up, etc. Just the fact that a school board would pay a Phillips the kind of money they did is ludicrous. He is only making a few thousand more in TN than he did here and they have 26 schools. They want to play all innocent and pretend they don't know what is going on in our schools. All that money has been spent on one big dog and pony show! Test scores have NOT improved. Money is not being spent to hire teachers to reduce class size. The cuts are cuts that directly hurt the students. Surely somebody knows how to get the ball rolling as far as a deep investigation into the budget. Does the public not have a right to know where the money has gone? (And I do mean details.) Other school districts lost the same money that CMSD has lost, but have managed to stay in the black. The county did not have to cut any teachers. Look at the size of our schools and the administrators they have. Compare that to any other district. Why would only one elementary school need a curriculum person, when there are none anywhere else? Volunteer coordinator? How many volunteers do we have in the school? Wake up Columbus! The things happening with the CVB are nothing compared to CMSD.


Article Comment sheatherly commented at 8/12/2011 5:40:00 PM:

The CMSD school board's first paragraph sounded like the usual professionally spun "smokescreen" that is the norm coming from the leadership of this school district as of late. No, the students are NOT receiving a high quality education, no the teachers are NOT able to reach every child, and no, there is NOT a high success rate.
Most every parent who has had a child at CMSD knows this, every teacher knows it, and the students themselves know it...and this school board has been made aware of the continual complaints at CMSD. Yet, they allow the 'spin doctors' to take charge and continue doing what they a very high cost.
Priority # 1: DISCIPLINE - There MUST first and foremost be a learning environment conducive to learning. (There have already been reports of vandalism at the new school.) Priority # 2: Highly capable administrators and teachers - QUALITY over "giving friends a job". A social studies teacher who teaches her class that the ancient Greek gods were named after the planets is NOT going to be able to effectively educate students. NO amount of innovative programming or overdrill of the achievement test is going to improve the situation unless the priorities are addressed first.
How could the school board possibly approve the costs of the current renovations taking place at Hunt NOW for administrative offices when the students who were housed there BEFORE the school's supposed closing were not provided an adequate supply of copy paper, working lights and t.v.s, or adequate heating and cooling??? And now a museum?? Who is funding this museum? This causes me great concern as to what the priorities of the adults in charge of making decisions for CMSD are really about. Why not put the whole of the central offices at Lee and close Hunt and Brandon? Seems to make perfect sense in a central and safer location. With ample room for the alternative school ...and a museum.
The school board's job now is to LOCATE a superintendent who will do the HONEST work of what needs to be done. But I'm sure that they are going to have to, instead, concentrate now on finding some financial wizard to do damage control instead of hiring an EDUCATOR.
In the interim of hiring a new leader, the CMSD board needs to send their personal phone numbers in an email to every CMSD faculty member and have them passed along to parents to encourage OPEN COMMUNICATION and then ACT ON the information they receive throughout the year. If they cannot or refuse to function is this role, then they should do the students of Columbus a great service and step down. But I don't think what's best for the children IS the main objective. It's just what is said to sound appropriate. ..because their actions speak the loudest.
I am sick of watching adults ride on the shoulders of our children to fulfill their own agendas....and then continue to paint that rosy picture as if most of the members of this community don't know the truth.


Article Comment zipporah commented at 8/12/2011 7:14:00 PM:

Very interesting reading and statements by our former leader in the article in "The Tennessean." The title of the article is "Sumner Commissioners Tell School Board More Cuts Needed." Especially interesting is the last statement! At least that school board answers to somebody.


Article Comment brynnrn73 commented at 8/12/2011 7:49:00 PM:

Well now, Mr. Armstrong...the people are speaking....after your recent public display of horrific arrogance, I wouldn't believe anything that you say....You share responsibility in this matter...We the people are holding you responsible...You can step down from your self imposed pedestal now, Sir!


Article Comment zenreaper commented at 8/15/2011 1:50:00 PM:

Got to love it, if the CITY knew the school board underfunded themselves, why didn;t they override it?!? When do we stop blaming OTHERS? If the school board said, "We can do the job for X amount of dollars..." why NOT trust them? To those who think the city should have paid MORE to the school board than they asked for, tell me much OVER your electric bill did you pay last month?


Article Comment bay3 commented at 8/15/2011 7:41:00 PM:


Your comments are nonsensical because we are NOW having to pay for the poor financial decisions made over the past 3 years regarding the school district millage.

Did you not read this paragraph?:

"According to Lowndes County Tax Assessor, Greg Andrews, the school district has been shorted approximately $1.8 million the past three years, because the correct millage was not assessed by the city. If the correct millage had been assessed, the district would not be facing such difficult financial decisions."

And as for your idiotic electric bill question....if I know my bill should be $100 and they only ask for $10..and I know I will have to pay the $100 to keep my electricity-then yes, I will pay the correct amount instead of just paying $10 and then looking like a moron while they cut my lights off.

You ask why NOT trust them?? Trusting them and not using common sense is why our district is now $1.8 million in the hole while the former Supt has fled to another school district and all the programs he initiated to pad his resume (such as extending school years at some elementary schools)...have all gone down the toilet. And while the school board, the city council, the mayor, and Mr. Armstrong all want to point fingers at anybody they can....its the taxpayers like myself that is having to literally PAY for their failures. I'm paying with my checkbook...and my kids are paying with their lack of access to quality education.


Article Comment zenreaper commented at 8/17/2011 5:20:00 PM:


Are you insinuating that until three years ago, the Lowndes county schools were top notch? Surely you jest, this problem is DECADES old. Your schools SUCK! They always HAVE, and until someone stops treating the kids like ceramic dolls, it will never change. Throwing MONEY at the problem does NOTHING to help it. Everyone wants great schools...but they also want lower taxes. Can't have both. So when the school board low balls it, to make the electorate happy, they are doing the wrong thing. When they OVER BUDGET, they are doing the wrong thing. Well, what is the RIGHT THING?

You say that "trusting" them was the wrong thing to do, so the city council TRIES to have a meeting with them, and the school board REFUSES, cause they don't HAVE to do it.


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