Will be taken up at special meeting
District looks at abstinence-plus sex ed
At their February 13 meeting, the Columbus Municipal School Board took no action on a personnel issue that would have laid off over 50 teachers. Trustee Currie Fisher asked that the personnel matters be tabled because more names had been added to the list since last week.
The board also heard a presentation about a district-wide abstinence education program.
Last week the CMSD announced that they planned to lay of some 59 teachers who had two years or less experience in the district as part of a cost-saving plan. The news caused much public concern, and, while the CMSD board meetings are typically sparsely attended at best, Monday’s meeting drew a crowd of protestors. About 25-30 teachers, students and parents picketed the meeting, first standing outside the municipal complex as trustees and district employees arrived, and then moving inside to stand along the back wall of the board room.
[The teachers who protested were not the ones whose jobs are on the chopping block. One individual I spoke to said that the affected teachers were scared to show up at the board meeting because they were afraid it would adversely affect their chances of being rehired. Others I spoke to wondered aloud how many teachers’ jobs could be saved if district-level personnel were to take a pay cut. I think this is a fair question. In March 2010 the board voted to reduce administrators’ contracts by 10 days, a move that then-Superintendent Del Phillips estimated would save the district around $800,000. At the time he said the cut would remain in place for “at least” two fiscal years. I think it’s time to not only revisit that cut, but to deepen it. The teachers being cut are paid around $41,000 a year, including fringe benefits. It doesn’t seem like the district would have to cut very many high-level jobs to free up the cash to keep on at least a few teachers, especially at the high school, which is bearing the brunt of the cuts. I won’t hold my breath, though. I’ve always been amazed at the ability of high-level officials to weather budget-related storms. – Brian Jones] Personnel agenda items are usually disposed of with one vote and little discussion. When board member Tommy Prude made the motion, President Glenn Lautzenhiser had to call twice for a second before Bruce Hanson offered a second. Then, rather than proceeding to a vote as is normal, Trustee Currie Fisher asked that the item be tabled.
“There are some additional names that I was not aware of,” Fisher said. “I think it would probably serve us well to table this particular action until we have an opportunity to get some explanation as to why there are differences. There seem to be some changes between what we looked at last week and what we are seeing tonight.”
Interim Superintendent Martha Liddell asked Personnel Director Myra Gillis to explain the additions.
“The names are based on the non-renewal policy under state statute,” she said. “They are people in our district who have been employed either for less than two years with us or less than…We had to do some further research after the first query that we made in the database and look at personnel man by man to determine if we had missed any in our first review. We had missed some because we had people who worked in the district but were not working in a certified position. The law says they have to work consecutive years in a certified position. We had some folks that had been in the district for multiple years but have been in some other capacity than a certified position.
“So we had an initial pull and then we went back to make sure we didn’t miss anyone,” Gillis said. “We did that constantly up until I guess Thursday or Friday. There were different scenarios for each person. We have gone back and reviewed for people who thought their circumstances were different. We certainly don’t want to make a mistake on that. This is verified to the best of our ability.”
“Do you feel comfortable with this list?” Liddell asked.
“Yes,” Gillis said. “If anyone questions it or submit that their record is different…there’s always room for human error, and I welcome any questions. We definitely want to get this right.”
“Are we under a time frame in respect to approving this tonight?” Fisher asked.
“March 1 for administrators and April 15 for teachers,” said Board Attorney David Dunn.
“I would like to take the teachers off who have been added to give them the opportunity to rest assured that this is right,” Fisher said.
“I’m looking at the list here, and I’m not sure which names fall into that category,” Lautzenhiser said.
“I would not attempt to do that from memory,” Gillis said. “That would be risky. But all of these people have received a letter from the superintendent as of Thursday or Friday of last week. Several of them have come and enquired and we have searched their information and given them the results of the research. We can always come back if we find something questionable, but to my knowledge we have resolved each one.”
“Are the other personnel matters time sensitive as well?” asked Trustee Bruce Hanson.
“The administrators are the most time sensitive,” Liddell said.
“I’m talking about the whole agenda,” Hanson said. “All the staff and personnel matters. Can we lay it on the table subject to call and still be able to deal with these issues in a straightforward matter so that everybody’s satisfied that we’re doing the right thing. I believe that’s what my friend Ms. Fisher is asking. I see there is a lot of doubt in here. If you look around the room you see some doubt as well. I believe we deserve to make sure we’ve done everything possible.”
“There are items on here such as terminations that have nothing to do with this particular matter,” Dunn said. “We have resignations—”
“Sir, my question was are there sensitive issues on this agenda that cannot wait for another date,” Hanson said, cutting him off. “That’s my question. I have not got an answer yet. I did not ask you that, I asked the superintendent.”
“We have, looking at the agenda, we certainly have time,” Liddell said. “Administration are the most sensitive. By state law those have to be dealt with by March 1. We think it would be fair and just to allow the personnel office to go back and look at this again.”
The personnel matters were tabled. A special board meeting will be called in the near future to take them up again.
In other business, the board discussed abstinence education.
Public Information Officer Janet Lewis and Nurse Sharon Reifers made a presentation to the board about possible options.
“House Bill 999 requires Mississippi school districts to adopt a sex-related education policy by June 30 of this year,” Lewis said. “The curriculum must start with the 2012-13 school year. The curriculum must be approved by the Mississippi Department of Education or the board can adopt one developed by the Mississippi Department of Human Services and the Department of Health. The bill requires several key points. It is an opt-in policy, meaning that parents must sign and give their permission for students to be a part of these courses. They courses must all be gender based. We will separate by gender when teaching these courses. There are no demonstrations allowed in either abstinence or abstinence-plus, nor are there any abortion instructions allowed.
“We decided that the district needed input and formed a committee of stakeholders to examine the bill and examine curriculum and make a recommendation to the board,” Lewis said. “The committee consisted of administrators, principals, parents, nurses, counselors and community members. We looked at the data and had speakers to present the reason the bill was passed in the first place: the rate of teen pregnancy and the disease rate. Then we looked at possible curriculum. Nurse Reifers has given us great hope for a grant that would fund teacher training, curriculum and tracking to see how effective our program is. The Mississippi Department of Health will administer the grant. They are partnered with Mississippi First, which created a program called Creating Healthy And Responsible Teens.
“The requirements to participate are that first we have to adopt an abstinence-plus policy,” Lewis said. “The districts are divided into three tiers. Tier One has the highest need and are automatically funded through this grant. Tier Two and Tier Three will be on a first-come, first-served basis. Lowndes County is a Tier Three county.”
Lewis said the committee looked at several policies before settling on CHART.
“The curriculum is evidence-based and is proven to reduce the rates that we’ve discussed,” Lewis said. “If selected we can then apply for the grant, and if we get our name in fast enough we can get funding. If selected for funding, this curriculum will be at no cost to the district.”
“What is the percentage of parents who support this program?” asked Trustee Aubra Turner.
“It’s around 90% statewide,” Lewis said. “The number is broken down by county, and our county had a high percentage, but we didn’t have numbers for the Columbus school district.”
“Do you plan to hire new personnel for this program or will you use instructors that we have?” Turner asked.
“That would be a decision the district administration would make,” Lewis said. “It’s only a six-week course and would be included in a health course or something along those lines. There wouldn’t be an additional instructor to just do this.”
The board tabled the abstinence education policy. New policies must be placed on the table before they can be enacted. The policy will be taken up again at the board’s next meeting.
In other business, the district approved the Hunt Cultural Center agreement. The Hunt Cultural Center will lease space at Hunt school for three years.
Johnnie Johnson heads up the Hunt Cultural Center. He spoke to the board briefly.
“It is our plan to develop and establish a center for the lost history of African-Americans in this community,” Johnson said. “We have 14 members working on this, and we plan in the near future to have an open house to show the committee the artifacts we have. We want to build a museum where our kids can see the history of black Americans in this community.”
The lease was approved unanimously.