CMSD considers Lee sale, impact of charter school law

April 9, 2013 10:00:59 AM

Sarah Fowler - [email protected]


The Columbus Municipal School District has yet to reach a decision on the sale of the Lee Middle School property. After meeting for nearly three-and-a-half hours Monday, the CMSD Board of Trustees entered into an hour-long executive session to discuss potential litigation and the sale of district-owned property. School board president Currie Fisher emerged after executive session and announced no action was taken. 


At the start of Monday night's meeting, CMSD Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell addressed the board on the charter school legislation that passed last week. 


"This is extremely important because it could possibly affect our funding," Liddell said. 


The district is currently rated a "D" by the state, giving Mississippi Department of Education the authority to declare the district eligible for a charter school. Liddell said she and staff members are working diligently to raise the district's grade to a "C" or above "as soon as possible" to avoid charter schools coming to the Columbus area. 


Board member Aubra Turner asked Liddell how she planned on raising the district's grade and competing with a charter school if one came to the Golden Triangle. 


"We're going to do what we continue to do," Liddell said. "We're going to make sure our kids get a quality education. We fully anticipated this."  


Turner asked how charter school legislation would affect Project 2020 and other programs funded by grant money, including the new e-centers. 


"They're designed as part of the Columbus Municipal School District and we'd like to keep it that way," Liddell said. 




Boost and Blast 


The board addressed Project Boost and Project Blast, two programs targeted for students who need extra tutoring. In past meetings, board members have asked for a more detailed account of the district's spending.  


When grants and special service coordinator Janette Adams presented the programs, both Tuner and board member Angela Verdell questioned why there was not a detailed list of which teachers would be heading the programs at the different schools. 


"It's a great program but how many are there?" Turner asked, referring to total employees who would be paid for the extra time. 


Adams said five teachers and three assistants would be part of the program. The program started April 1, but Adams noted employees would not be paid until the board approved the motion. 


With five teachers making $25 an hour, Turner asked that the board move the matter to the end of the meeting until Adams could provide a detailed list of which teachers would be working on the projects. 


As the board discussed the possibility of having to call a special meeting to vote on the matter, Fisher asked Adams if she could provide "detailed information up front" in the future. 




School calendar 


Deputy Superintendent Craig Shannon approached the board seeking approval of the 2013-2014 school calendar. Teachers will return to school on Aug. 5 and students will return Aug. 7. Students will attend school 90 days first semester and 91 days second semester. Due to a fall break scheduled Oct. 14-15, students will not be off for the Monday after Easter Sunday as they were this year. Shannon noted that this is the last year students will start in early August as new state law mandates they not start school until after the third weekend in August for the 2014-2015 school year. The calendar was unanimously approved. 




Distribution error 


Director of federal programs Anthony Brown addressed the board on what he described as a "very rare exception" involving an error in the distribution of nearly $13,000 worth of supplies. According to Brown, an audit conducted by accountant Leslie Shivers concluded that reams of paper were delivered to the school and then incorrectly divided equally among the schools within the district. The paper should have been sent to the schools that applied for the grant money only. The mistake could cost the district $13,000 if the state demands a refund. 


Brown said he was sending a corrective action plan to the state to ensure them the problem would never happen again. He blamed the error on "lack of internal control" and said the issue occurred during a break when the schools were closed. Ordinarily, Brown said, the paper would have been delivered to the individual schools rather than the central office. 


"It's a very rare exception because we don't purchase school supplies here," he said. 


Verdell asked Brown if this error could affect the district's ability to receive future grants and he assured her that it would not. 






The board approved two new e-centers for Project 2020, Greater Columbus Learning Center and The Point Church. Two centers are currently being established at Union and Hughes Elementary and Adams said the project is "moving at the speed of light." 


She added that she hopes to have 10 e-centers but intends on making sure the first four are up and running before beginning the final six. 


"We want to ensure a strong foundation with the Mississippi Department of Education," she said. 


Drop-outs can attend the e-centers of their choice without regard to their residency. Liddell said Hughes and Union would be open by summer. 




Other business 


■ In two separate issues regarding Magnolia Bowl, city engineer Kevin Stafford and city planner Christina Berry first asked the board if it would be interested in applying for a Brownsfield grant, a grant that provides funding to check for possible contamination. With rumors of old cars and rubbish beneath the concrete bleachers of Magnolia Bowl, Berry mentioned the grant could test for ground contamination. The Lee Middle School property was also mentioned as a possible test site. 


With $400,000 in grant money available, "we really want to make good use of these funds," Berry said. 


Stafford then presented an offer on behalf of Columbus Light and Water. According to Stafford, Todd Gale with the utility company offered to provide a company to remove the crumbling concrete at the Magnolia Bowl stadium. He also volunteered to remove the wall surrounding the bowl. However, with the mention of possible contamination under the steps, removal of the concrete could release potentially hazardous materials into the air. In that event, board attorney David Dunn noted, the district would be responsible for any clean-up costs. Stafford added that once the blocks were removed, a hill would be left where the seating once was and the district would be responsible for dealing with the newly created dirt mound. 


Board members unanimously voted to apply for the Brownsfield grant and also unanimously voted to table the motion on removing the concrete. 


■ A CMSD Real Properties White Paper was presented to the board regarding property that the district owns. 


"This is an overall plan of connecting our properties and letting our community know what's for sale and what's for lease," Liddell said. 


Fisher noted the properties' report was a draft and not a final version. The board discussed the matter further in executive session. 


■ Beth Tippet gave a digital presentation of the district's new online professional development program. With the recent issues raised about travel by district employees, a new program was created to track all individual employee travel expenses. The program will replace the current paper system and will create "documentation for a specific person going to a specific conference," Tippet said. Turner asked about past travel expenses and Tippet said while it was not impossible, each request would have to be done manually and was time consuming.  


"I didn't say it couldn't be done, I said it's a very manual process," she said. 


A special board meeting will be held April 17 to discuss Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or SACS Accreditation.

Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.