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CMSD Talks About Charter Schools, Mag Bowl, Lee

During a sprawling, at times glacial four-and-a-half-hour meeting, the Columbus Municipal School Board discussed charter schools, the Magnolia Bowl, a snafu with federal grant, the school calendar for the next academic year and a white paper listing the district’s available property.

Superintendent Martha Liddell briefed the board on charter schools legislation.
“I’d like to give some highlights of the bill that passed,” she said.  “The charters will focus on low-performing schools and will be allowed in districts that have a D or F rating.    Charters can locate in districts rated A, B or C only with the approval of the local school board.  Our district right now is rated a D, and we are working extremely hard, our teachers, principals and students to move to a C or above as soon as possible.”
Liddell then listed several things the charter school bill does not allow.  Students will not be allowed to cross district lines to attend charter schools; charter schools may not be for-profit; charter schools may not be on-line; and only 15 schools may open per year.
“What are your plans to compete charter schools?” asked Trustee Aubra Turner.
“The first thing we’ve got to do is what we do every day,” Liddell said.  “We have to ensure that our kids get a quality of education.  Our plan is to continue to ensure that the principals and the teachers are in the classrooms and make sure we have the right training for the teachers.  The main thing, and that was a great question, is to make sure that our kids get a quality education.  That’s the job that you’ve entrusted us to do, and we’re doing it.”
[Dr. Liddell had a great opportunity here to inspire some public confidence by giving an in-depth, detailed answer that showed the district’s leaders were on top of the situation.  Instead, she opted for vagueness and platitudes like “ensure that our kids get a quality education.”  While hardly surprising – the CMSD is nothing if not adroit at giving empty, feel-good answers to hard questions – the district’s stakeholders deserve more than a bumper-sticker-ready slogan. – Brian Jones] The board took no action.

The board approved the school calendar for the 2013-14 academic year.
Assistant Superintendent Craig Shannon explained that teachers, administrators and district personnel put the calendar together.
Teachers will return August 5 and 6, with students coming back August 7.  A fall break is scheduled for October 14 (Columbus Day).  School will be out for the entirety of Thanksgiving week.  Christmas break will include three full weekends, and teacher will return January 6 and students on January 7.  Spring break is the second week in March.  Graduation is May 24.  May 27 is scheduled as a snow day, if needed.
Turner questioned whether there were enough severe weather days.
“This year we had several severe weather days,” Turner said.  “Has anything been done to prepare for that?”    “We feel like the one day will be enough,” Shannon said.  “If we have to use more, we can ask for relief from the state department so we don’t have to make the days up.  If they deny that request, we will take away some holidays from our calendar.”
The calendar was approved unanimously.

Assistant Superintendent Anthony Brown reported that there had been a problem with distributing paper purchased with federal grant dollars.
The issue was caught during a recent audit, he said.
“We had an internal control problem,” he said.  “With our Title IV money we bought necessary supplies early.  A decision was made to purchase paper.  That paper was perfectly in compliance with the grant, but because the paper was purchased during the summer it was purchased via the central office instead of from the school site.  It was purchased in bulk, and once received here at central office it was distributed to all schools rather than just the ones that were eligible to receive it.”
Of 880 cases of paper, 419 went to approved sites and the rest went to non-eligible schools, he said.  The total cost for the paper was $13,046.
“We have to develop a corrective action plan to ensure that this will not happen again,” he said.  “Then we have to wait and see if that is adequate.  The worst-case scenario is that we would have to repay the $13,000, but I would remind you that that is paper that would have been an expense anyway.”
No action was taken.

Columbus City Engineer Kevin Stafford and Christina Berry appeared to discuss two issues at the Magnolia Bowl.
The first issue surrounded a Brownfield grant the city has received.  The grant allows the city to assess sites that are unused and may be eligible for redevelopment.  Stafford wanted permission to assess both the Magnolia Bowl and Lee Middle School.
“The city has $400,000 to look at dilapidated properties that could be rehabilitated for economic development,” Stafford said.  “We are working with the city to look at properties to put on the list.  We have discussed Lee and the Magnolia Bowl, and we can’t guarantee that we’ll get to them but we would like your permission to consider them.”    One of the things the assessment will look at is possible contamination, he said.
“About 60 percent of the properties we look at get a clean bill of health,” he said.  “If the site is clean you will get a document stating that, and you can use it to demonstrate to anyone who wants to look at the site that it’s been certified as clean.  If we do find something, we will move on to a second phase of the assessment, which will be a little more invasive on the property.”
“We are looking at places that may have some minor contamination,” Berry stated.  “Old gas stations, or places that could have been cleaners.  Nothing major or on the level of the Kerr-McGee site.  Nothing that poses a major health risk, but things that can cause a hiccup to future development.”
Magnolia Bowl and Lee are “major sites for possible redevelopment,” she said, and she encouraged the board to consider the program.
“We want to remove the public perception that there is contamination at the Magnolia Bowl,” she added.  “People are saying things are buried there.”  [According to popular rumor, everything from old cars to debris from old houses was covered over under the stands at the Bowl. – Brian Jones] The board unanimously approved the study.

Stafford then presented an offer from Columbus Light and Water to tear down the old walls and bleachers at the Bowl.
“They will tear down any concrete-related items to get material to use out at the wastewater treatment plant,” Stafford said.  “Years ago the city said there were voids underneath the bleachers in certain areas.  [This was a major rationale for building the sportsplex at Columbus High School. – Brian Jones]  Years ago we talked about taking it out, and now the CLW is offering to tear down the bleachers and the walls at no cost to the district.  Obviously this will leave you with a raw hill, which will raise some erosion issues, and without the wall you’ll have an unprotected site.”
The offer was tabled unanimously.

 Still No Decision on Lee’s Status
A white paper on real property available for sale in the district was presented, but no action was taken after Trustee Angela Verdell complained that she had not had adequate time to review it.
The white paper listed the Brandon Central Services facility, the Magnolia Bowl and Lee Middle School.  [I found it interesting that Lee is on the white paper as available real property, but the board still will not admit that it is actually for sale.  No decision has been reached about Lee’s fate as of last night.  Last month President Currie Fisher promised Pastor RJ Matthews, who wants to lease the building, that the board would write him a letter within the week to tell him if it was available.  They sent him a letter, but only to say that they still had not decided.  Pastor Shane Cruz of Point of Grace Church is still hanging in there, too; he was at Monday night’s monster of a meeting, and waited until the very end.  While the board discussed ‘sale of property’ during executive session, no action was taken. – Brian Jones] 0

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