Leyens ‘blind sided’ by closure of ed centers|[11/24/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 25, 2005

Mayor Laurence Leyens said Wednesday he was &#8220blind sided” by a group led by Bobbie Morrow and former North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young Monday when they spoke out against the elimination of educational programs at the Jackson Street and Kings community centers.

At the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Leyens also said Morrow and Young, representing the Vicksburg Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, presented inaccurate information.

&#8220I did not understand the political approach,” Leyens said. &#8220We have public buildings for public use and we invite everyone to use them,” he said.

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Young later said the mayor had plenty of notice of the planned appearance and their topic.

&#8220You have to be on the agenda way ahead of time,” said Young, who was North Ward alderman from 1993 to this year. &#8220We posted a notice to be on the agenda as normally scheduled through the city clerk’s office,” she said. &#8220In the letter it states why we were coming.”

Leyens said the group’s statistics on the number of people using the centers were wrong.

Morrow said Monday that 2,900 people used the centers every month in 2004.

&#8220I cannot find any source that shows where people were coming in and out of those buildings,” Leyens said. &#8220I never ever received any head count of those centers. If there’s some data then I’m not aware of it.”

Young said the statistics were taken from log-in sheets at the centers.

&#8220When you go to the centers you have to sign in, so the person there will know exactly who will be in the facility,” Young said. &#8220They do a count and would give a monthly report to the board as to what went on and how many people visited the center.”

Leyens countered with his own statistics Wednesday, saying only 10 students used the centers from January to June, and they were students suspended or expelled from the Vicksburg Warren School District..

That program has been taken over by the district.

&#8220That’s the only thing we effectively removed, the 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. service,” Leyens said. &#8220Every student in Warren County is the legal responsibility of the school system.”

Leyens also said during the Wednesday board meeting that several organizations have already approached him about offering free tutoring services at the centers, which he said he would like to see.

The elimination of five jobs and a reduction in center hours were part of a budget plan to reduce operating costs from about $450,000 per year to $150,000 per year.

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said the school system is doing a fine job of educating all its students.

&#8220We are not in the mode of telling the school district what to do,” Beauman said. &#8220They are their own entity.”

In other business, the board: