Lynn Wright: Takes issue with coverage of Lowndes schools

 

 

 

I feel I must respond to a constant barrage of negative articles directed toward the Lowndes County School District and myself. I do not understand, with all of the positive things going on in our district why The Commercial Dispatch has decided it was necessary to disparage the LCSD. I would put our dedicated, hardworking certified and noncertified staff up against any in the State of Mississippi. 

 

Our district has faced unforeseen adversity in our funding the past four years. We have lost over $14,000,000 in tax revenue during this time period. This was monies we were counting on to fund the $44,000,000 Bond Issue. Standard and Poor's determined our Bond Rating based on these projections. We went into last year with a deficit budget for the first time in years. We faced a $1,000,000 increase in our Bond payment and a $400,000 increased PERS obligation. We were projecting being a $2.5 million short fall. We calculated we could make it last year without a tax increase by dipping into our fund balance. This would take us down to the State's minimal requirement of 7%, $3.2 million. After 

 

submitting our tax request, we were hit with the Airport Property taxes taken off the rolls. This cost us an additional $800,000. Now we were down $3.3 million. We didn't throw up our arms and quit, we 

 

rolled up our sleeves, prayed a lot, and went to work! 

 

While dealing with these challenges, another problem arose. A county official expressed displeasure with my handling of a personnel issue. He threatened contacting school board members and going to the paper and TV. The board was trying to decide whether they were going to appoint me or do a search for a new Superintendent. All of a sudden, a series of negative articles started coming out. The first one was about non-renewing first year teachers. Columbus Municipal Schools had sent us a flyer advertising bonuses for math and science teachers, and advertising several openings. One was laying on my conference table. A reporter from the Dispatch saw it and ask if we were going to send it out to our teachers. I told them we were not until the board approved the non-renewal of our 64 first year teachers. The board approved this at the next board meeting and the flyer was sent out. I explained we would be recalling 90% of the first year teachers to fill positions vacated by those lost to retirement, moves, etc. The article in the paper made it look like we did not care about our teachers and was doing nothing to help them. Teachers have to be recommended back in April. Many of our teachers who were retiring or resigning did not do so until May, June, and July. We normally replace about 50 each year. 

 

Next an article came out about sending students back to the Columbus Municipal School District after they had been counted in the LCSD for funding purposes. It stated that the Lowndes County School District owed the CMSD $6,000/student for 36 students who were sent back to CMSD after the November count. They left off that the LCSD had received 39 students from the CMSD during the same time and had received 84 transfers overall after the November count was taken. The LCSD wouldn't get paid for any of these. School districts are paid per student on their average daily attendance in October and November from the previous year. 

 

According to the paper, the LCSD was accused of trying to recruit the Palmer Home children. Two Palmer Home administrators approached our Board Chairman and myself and asked if there was any way their students could attend the LCSD schools. I told them the only way this could happen would be if the CMSD Board released them. It would take a MOU both boards would have to agree to. The Palmer Home children were not attending school in either district. They were being schooled at the Palmer Home or attending private or Christian Schools. Many of the Palmer Home children had sponsors in the LCSD. An MOU was drawn up where they would have the option to attend school in the district 

 

where their sponsor lived. The CMSD Board did not approve releasing them. The Palmer Home moved. 

 

Next, the front page of the paper, $7,000,000 down the drain. A reporter asked me about our financial status over the past few years. I told him, we had been blessed. Even though we had not received the projected tax revenues, we had managed to finish each year in the black, with the exception of this year's deficit budget. He presented a sheet of paper to me and said according to this you spent $3,000,000 more last year and $4,000,000 more the year before than you took in. He said this was from our audit and asked if I ever looked at our audit. I told him I did. I normally scan over the audit and focus on the back page. We had received clean audits with no findings those years. He asked how I explained these expenditures. I replied, off the top of my head I would say that this was payments to contractors on the completion of different phases of our $75,000,000 Construction Projects. $44,000,000 was included in the bond. I told him I would ask our Business Manager. Our BM came in and replied the same. 

 

When we had our budget hearing, the reporter was given the power point. It was reported in the paper we spend $700,000 in administrative cost. This is true, but the article leaves off the fact that the State allows a district our size up to $1,700,000 allocated in administrative cost. Our administrative cost is one of the lowest in the state. 

 

It was also reported in the paper I was allegedly holding the Career/Tech position open for myself. The board kept delaying the decision on whether or not they would appoint me as superintendent. My term ends in December. I told the board each month I needed to know something. Mr. Lee, the retiring Career/Tech Director told me I should appoint myself as CTD in Jan. and name an interim for the first term. I told our Board, if they didn't want me as Supt. I still needed a job and could appoint myself as CTD. I explained to them three options: 

 

1. I would do both jobs at no additional cost. 

 

2. Name an interim pt semester, interview for position second sem. 

 

3. Hire someone, regular 1 year contract 

 

The board voted for me to employ an interim CT director. We screened 34 applicants, interviewed four of the top candidates, and selected a CTD. I made a point to explain to each of the candidates, if things were going well, there would be no way I would remove the CTD to make a job for myself. I also told this to the board. However, this was not reported. The paper blasted us for poor money management. We closed the year with $6,200,000 in fund balance. This almost doubled what we had projected and the State required. One would think we would be receiving all kinds of accolades for having such an effective and efficient school district. When the State Test Scores are released, we will have our highest test scores ever. The LCSD is going on eight years of steady improvement in nearly every category measurable. I am very proud to be part of one of the top school districts in the State, the Lowndes County School District! 

 

Sincerely, 

 

Lynn Wright 

 

Superintendent, Lowndes County School District

 

 

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