School district’s finances should be OK, Oakes tells trustees

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 19, 2001

[01/19/01] Unless more of the money expected from state sources fails to show up, the Vicksburg Warren School District will be OK financially, Superintendent Donald Oakes told school trustees Thursday night.

“We’re on the right road to get our system where we want to be,” said Oakes, who also told the five trustees he will apply for his present job on a permanent basis.

Because state income has been less than projected, rounds of cuts have been announced. Included have been dollars expected for the Education Enhancement Fund. Oakes said he would be pleased if the state decides to provide the funds that were promised, but he doesn’t expect a miracle where the EEF money is concerned.

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EEF money is used for textbooks, transportation operations, instructional materials and classroom supplies, assistant teachers, health insurance and additional support service funds.

VWSD Director of Accounting Marti Gunkel said she hopes to receive a revised Minimum Foundation allotment from the state later this month, but until then, the district will not be able to determine which areas of the budget will be adjusted.

“Nothing is final until the Legislature decides,” she said. “Education is the most important issue, but it is always the last to be discussed.”

Gunkel said Minimum Foundation Funds are used for transportation, insurance benefits and teacher salaries.

The 9,200-student district planned to spend $53.2 million this year, of which $3,081,045 was to be EEF money. When the state check came, it was $433,000 less than expected. More than half of the district’s budget comes from state and federal funds; the local share is $19 million.

At the regular meeting for January, Oakes said his main concern is that more cuts may mean some programs have to be eliminated. “We’ll be dealing with this for the next six months,” he said.

Oakes also addressed the state’s adoption of a new assessment policy last September. Under the new system, students and districts are evaluated using the scores from criterion-referenced tests that reflect the Mississippi Curriculum Frameworks. The new system will take full effect next school year.

“We’re going to do more than just teach the test,” he said. “We’re also going to make sure the students have the information to do well on the test.”

Dale McClung, director of financial operations, reported that $18,000 in back overtime was paid to 24 district employees in December, and that he expects to pay about $50,000 more to 20 employees this month.

The overtime pay is a result of a suit that began late last year involving employees from about 30 districts across the state. The employees said they were owed overtime pay because they accumulated more than 40 hours a week working two jobs within the school system. For example, a cafeteria employee who also worked as a bus driver would get two checks reflecting time worked, but no time-and-a-half wages if the total of both jobs topped 40 hours.

“I hope to at least have this done by June of this year,” McClung said.

At the close of the meeting, Oakes announced he will apply for the superintendent position that has been open since Robert Pickett’s retirement, which became effective a year ago. At that time, trustees named Oakes interim superintendent through the end of this school year and said a national search would be conducted.

Oakes said he has tried to keep his decision to apply “low key” because he did not want the community to think he had an inside track on the position.

He also said he had not been trying to obtain an extension of his interim status.

“My job is to run the school district until June 30, and that’s what I’m going to do,” Oakes said.

He stressed the importance of cooperation in the search for a superintendent. “This community cannot afford to be divided about the most important function the state and country can do,” Oakes said.

Under provisions of a Strategic Plan developed at faculty, administration and community meetings and adopted by the trustees, a search committee is supposed to be working with the trustees in the search. At a working session earlier this month, some commented that that the roles and the relationship between the committee and trustees needed to be more clear.

Trustees also:

Witnessed the swearing in of Zelmarine Murphy as board president again. Murphy, from District 2, was re-elected to a new six-year term in November with no opposition.

Congratulated Trustee Secretary Pearline Williams for receiving the Blue Cross & Blue Shield Mississippi Ageless Heroes Award for her involvement in community service. The award was presented in Hattiesburg last week. Williams represents District 3.

Approved amendments to the 2000-01 budget.

Accepted donations from Miller Electric Inc. and Jancsi A. Herlihy of $2,500 to the Robotics Team at Warren Central High School.

Approved the district’s entry into a license agreement with the City of Vicksburg to use the Vicksburg Convention Center. VWSD will host this year’s State Student Council Convention in March.

Agreed to continue to use Utility Analysts Inc., a service that monitors the district’s electricity bill and establishes a consolidated monthly rate.