School board: Cost-cutting measure approved|[2/18/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 18, 2005

Reorganization approved Thursday by the Vicksburg Warren School District board will save local money on the administration of federal education programs.

Trustees approved the move 4-1, consolidating two positions formerly funded entirely by the district into one that will be funded by federal dollars.

The reshuffling involved three employees and will save the district $188,288 in local funds, said Superintendent James Price.

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District 2 trustee Zelmarine Murphy cast the dissenting vote. “I have no qualms with the people being recommended,” she said, adding that she was “concerned about overloading individuals.” She said she did not want to cut costs at the expense of students.

Price replied that he had “every confidence” that the employees could handle the work. “I would not suggest this if I thought that one single student would suffer,” Price said.

The change was effective immediately. It made Susan Bentley, who has been director of special education also director of federal programs, and tapped Laura D. Prather as the local director of the Elementary Secondary Education Act. Salaries were adjusted for those two employees, each of whom will make more than $64,000 annually.

The other employee involved in the change was Norman Powell, who was moved laterally to assistant ESEA director and whose salary was not changed.

The school district expected to spend $72.1 million this fiscal year. The savings is 0.26 percent of that amount.

Separately, Price said a periodic search by drug-sniffing dogs at junior high and high schools this month highlighted a problem the district needs to address. Minutes after dogs entered a school building, students had used the text-messaging features of their cell phones to notify each other and people outside the school of what was happening.

Student possession or use of cell phones on school property is against school rules. When students are found with phones, the phones are confiscated and a parent must go to the school to retrieve the device.

Price said he had attended a statewide meeting of school board attorneys and the issue had been discussed there. He said he would be providing trustees with as much information as possible on the topic.

“This is a primary concern for us,” he said.

Many parents like for their children to have the phones for use in emergencies and for after school communication.

Trustees also heard the district’s chief financial officer, Dale McClung, report that the district was on-track to receive its expected amount of taxes from Warren County this year. During January the district received $5.7 million, 27.4 percent of its expected total for the year, $20.9 million. The money is added to state and federal allocations plus fees collected to fund total operations.

“This time of year is when we all pay our taxes,” McClung said in explaining the January numbers. “They’re all due Feb. 1.”

Trustees unanimously approved a request to begin advertising for bids for a replacement for the computer that stores and processes district data on personnel, students and finances. The district’s IBM AS/400 server is at the end of its projected life at six years old and has become overloaded, said Hugh Cummings of the district’s information technology department.

A replacement for the machine could cost between $40,000 and $50,000, Cummings added. Two-thirds of the funding for the replacement could come from federal funds, Price said.

Trustees also approved a list of employees recommended for continued employment as directors, supervisors and principals. District 3 Trustee Betty Tolliver requested that one name be discussed in executive session. The board went into executive session and afterward the board president, Jan Daigre of District 4, said no action was taken.

The board heard Price deliver his monthly report. Among his comments were that: