August 11, 2011 10:47:00 AM
This is in response to your editorial dated August 10, 2011:
The Board of Trustees of the Columbus Municipal School District is accountable to many different constituencies: the district''s boys and girls, employees, taxpayers and citizens. We have a responsibility to the boys and girls of the district to provide them with a high quality education. We understand our responsibility to our employees, who work hard to make each and every child successful. We know the taxpayers are the ones who financially support our educational efforts. We make good use of those funds. We also understand our responsibility to the general public, because we know the quality of life here in Columbus is greatly impacted by the quality of our educational product.
We respect the mayor and city council individually and collectively. We have met with the mayor and his team on three separate occasions to provide a status report to them regarding our budget process. In those meetings, we provided a detailed analysis of the district''s finances. We also offered to meet with any city council members that were not present at one of the three previous meetings.
The reason we opted not to have a joint meeting of the school board and the mayor and City Council was because of certain language in the Mayor''s letter. We were told, "... all parties now meet and formulate a strategy and plan on where to go from here ... " This sounded to us like the mayor and city council wanted to help craft the school district''s budget. According to Mississippi state law, the school board is an independent body and must follow all legal procedures.
We questioned the propriety of such a joint meeting and sought the advice of experts in the fields of school law and school finance before deciding not to engage in the proposed joint meeting. Mike Waldrop, Executive Director of the Mississippi School Boards Association; David Dunn, CMSD Board Attorney; Jim Young, Young Law Group, and Jim Keith, Adams & Reese all advised against a joint meeting. Mississippi State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Tom Burnham, also advised against such a joint meeting between the School Board and the Mayor and City Council.
We have followed the process that every Mississippi School District follows in preparing and submitting our annual budget. The interim superintendent and management team drafted a proposed budget that was presented to the school board. We then had a public budget hearing, which is required by law, at which citizens were informed about the proposed budget and asked questions. We answered every question and listened to every comment. Last Monday night the Trustees adopted its budget and hand delivered it to the mayor and city council on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011, six days ahead of the Aug. 15 deadline.
Another example of our sensitivity to the public''s need and desire to obtain public input is our inviting the community on Sept. 13, 2011, to provide input to the Mississippi School Boards Association, which is assisting with the superintendent search. The public''s input is a critical component in assisting the trustees to establish the criteria for our next superintendent. As we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future, we will listen to every suggestion by the public and district employees.
During the last few weeks, there has been a great deal of discussion and misinformation about the school district''s budget. 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.
The school board''s focus is on the future and doing everything possible to provide each and every child in the Columbus Municipal School District with a high quality education. We are all in this together, but it takes a collaborative effort from everyone to become the best school district our community needs and deserves. Our focus will continue to be on the children of the Columbus Municipal School District.
The signatories of this letter compose the board of trustees Columbus Municipal School District.