October 5, 2012 11:18:57 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]
Columbus Middle School will soon have a new physical education assistant, a position which came under much scrutiny during Thursday night's city school board meeting.
The new hire was one of six approved so far this year, with each position paying $12,500 annually.
Board member Jason Spears questioned both the need and financial prudence of the positions, especially in light of last year's reduction in force, but Columbus Municipal School District Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell defended the motion, saying the middle school needs a physical education assistant, and the other positions were replacements.
Liddell said a substantial enrollment increase this year has left Columbus Middle School "bursting at the seams," struggling to cope with more than 1,000 students.
She said as many as 75 students are in the gymnasium at a time, with only one instructor to handle them all, causing a potential safety hazard. No accidents have occurred, she told Spears, but sporadic fights have raised concerns.
Spears questioned whether another teacher or staff member could help during physical education classes, eliminating the need to create a new position, but Liddell said pupil-teacher ratios are already high, and it is cheaper to hire an assistant teacher than a second physical education teacher.
The district enacted a reduction in force in February, telling 69 certified teachers and staff that their contracts would not be renewed this year due to budget concerns. The majority of those positions have been restored.
"I assure you, we're doing the work that needs to be done," Liddell said. "I'd rather see teachers being added than additional staff," Spears countered: "I mean $75,000 (for six positions) is a lot."
Although the assistants are at the bottom of the pay scale, as they move up in years of service, the district will have to absorb the costs of their step-increases, Spears and board member Aubra Turner said.
In other news, the district continues to move forward with its Project 20/20 dropout initiative, with board members accepting a $5,000 Omnova Foundation grant, which will be used to produce parent literature and other printed materials for the program.
The board approved an application for a $50,000 dropout prevention grant from the Mississippi Department of Education.
The district plans to provide "e-centers," located in various community facilities, to provide an online alternative for dropouts who wish to re-enroll in the district and earn their high school diplomas. Beginning Oct. 15, churches and other nonprofit agencies can apply to be e-centers.
The e-centers will be open from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Certified teachers will provide classes via video and instant messaging. The district will hire "life coaches" to monitor attendance and offer student assistance at each e-center.
The board also voted unanimously to allow Fire Ministries to rent the football field at Columbus High School on Saturday for a day-long event to raise awareness of domestic violence and child abuse.
The event is open to the public, and Liddell assured the board that CMSD attorney David Dunn saw no legal problems with allowing a religious organization to use school facilities, as long as they pay the rental fee and carry liability insurance.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.