Superintendent search trips up VWSD trustees; budget approved

Published 12:29 pm Friday, June 25, 2010

At a meeting in which the Vicksburg Warren School District’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year glided to approval, trustees hit a hurdle when a discussion of naming a new superintendent came up.

“It’s very important to have a clear commander-in-chief,” District 1 board member Jerry Boland said in asking the board to approve hiring an interim superintendent after Dr. James Price retires Wednesday. He did not name a candidate.

“We’re on track for interviews the last week in July, but there will be a small gap between the exit of Dr. Price and the selection of a new superintendent,” Boland said.

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After a brief discussion that included District 5 trustee and vice president Tommy Shelton’s asking, “Why wasn’t it on the agenda ahead of time?,” Boland withdrew his motion and said he would make it again Tuesday night during the meeting with search firm McPherson and Jacobson.

The meeting will be at 6 p.m. in the district offices on Mission 66.

“We hired a professional firm to assist us with this search,” said District 4 trustee and secretary Joe Loviza. “The guidelines say next Tuesday we’ll review the applicants and then decide if an interim is needed. I think we need to follow that.”

Shelton added that there are a number of well-qualified district employees to run the district until the replacement is selected. The board-approved schedule for replacing Price calls for the trustees to consider appointing an interim if no viable candidates are in the applicant pool.

After the meeting, Boland did not say why he had not asked for the matter to be put on the agenda, but added, “The 29th is fine, we can wait and do it then. I just want it taken care of.”

In a separate personnel matter, district special education director Dr. Susan Bentley confirmed she is resigning to accept a similar position in Jackson County.

Bentley, whose resignation date was not announced, said both salary and position factored into her decision. She has been with VWSD about six years.

The meeting also included the formal adoption of the 2010-2011 budget by a split 4 to 1 votes of trustees, with District 3’s James Stirgus Jr. dissenting. He said he had no comment on the vote, and there was no discussion by trustees.

Board president Zelmarine Murphy had requested at the board’s March 25 meeting following a public hearing that trustees receive line-item copies of the budget to study and evaluate before approving the spending plan.

No changes were made in the interim, said district financial manager Dale McClung, and the budget reflects no staff layoffs or furloughs.

“The public hearing document is what we’ll go into the new year with,” McClung said Thursday afternoon. “As we do every year, we’ll make amendments as necessary as we go along.”

Expenditures have been set at about $80 million for the coming year.

The budget reflects a reduction in personnel from the current year of 40 positions — 23 certified and 17 non-certified — due to retirements and resignations. The number was current as of the time the budget was prepared and could be revised when final staff requirements are known after school starts Aug. 5.

McClung said no salary raises were given other than contracted step increases.

Employees likely will see smaller paychecks, however, as their contribution to the state retirement fund will increase from 7.25 percent to 9 percent of gross pay. For many, also, health insurance costs will go up, he said.

The budget projects revenues of $74.4 million. About 43 percent will come from the state, 34 percent from local ad valorum taxes and 21 percent from federal sources.

Less than 1 percent is income from leases and easements on 16th Section land.

Revenues from the state were cut several times during the fiscal year ending June 30, to the tune of an estimated 10 percent, McClung said. Officials won’t know the exact amount of the cuts until later in the year, after final payments are received and year-end accounting completed.

The pattern is expected to continue in 2010-2011.

“They’re anticipating that the cuts will be between 12 and 17 percent for this year,” he added. “We essentially cut our revenue from the state 15 percent.”

The Legislature has approved two different amounts for VWSD, building into the second additional funding should an increase in Medicaid reimbursements be approved by the federal government and result in more money to distribute locally, he said. House Bill 1622 appropriated $33,792,811 for Vicksburg Warren schools, and HB 1059 set the mark at $34,252,373.

Local officials set the bar at the lower of the two, budgeting a state contribution of $32,119,229.

“We budgeted under the lowest level of funding indicated on our allocation sheet,” said McClung. “We’ll probably leave it that way for much of the year.”

The difference between projected revenues and budgeted spending comes from balances brought forward from the previous year, and does not indicate deficit spending.

As state revenues have decreased in the last two years, trustees have not raised the local tax rate. Infusions of cash from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have actually funded a net increase in spending in the district.

On the agenda

Meeting Thursday, the Vicksburg Warren School District trustees:

• Approved the minutes of the May 20 regular board meeting and May 26 called meeting.

• Approved donations of $200 cash for Warren Central Junior High School, $100 each from Betty Whitaker and Dollie Harrison, to be used for student incentives.

• Approved amendments to the 2009-2010 budget.

• Approved accounts payable claims docket for June.

• Approved personnel matters: compensation for extra duties, May; certified personnel changes in status; classified staff hires; pay day schedules; salary schedules for administrators and classified personnel; and certified staff hires.

• Approved disposal of surplus capital assets.

• Took action related to 16th Section land: awarded hunting and fishing lease bids (South Park); granted permission to advertise for hunting and fishing lease bids (Ballground); opened sealed bids for an oil, gas and mineral lease (Eagle Lake) and awarded the lease to high bidder Lawco Exploration Inc. of Bentonville, Ark. ($77,500 bonus payment plus 20 percent royalty); and approved, with conditions, a temporary construction easement request by the Bovina Volunteer Fire Department.

• Approved out-of-state travel for: WCJHS principal Cedric Magee to attend the Harvard Institute for school leadership in Cambridge, Mass., July 6-12; Warren Central High School NJROTC instructor Robert A. Hodges to attend training in Pensacola, Fla., July 6-8, and San Diego, Calif., July 20-22; and Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant project director Sherrie Williams to attend the National SS/HS conference in Bethesda, Md., Aug. 2-4.

• Approved a bid from Blackburn Motor Company to lease driver education vehicles; rejected a bid from Petroleum Traders for diesel fuel because it was not a firm bid; and approved the disposal of surplus property on which no bids were received.

• Approved disposal of school district records according to statutory requirements.

• Approved the purchase of sole-source “Al’s Pals” curriculum from Wingspan for $30,337.50 for Project SYNC per the SS/HS grant.

• Reviewed final savings from General Obligation Refunding Bonds.

• Approved the district’s annual application to the Mississippi Department of Education outlining the use of funds received through the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

• Met in executive session to review two personnel issues related to job performance. In one, the board agreed to table a hearing. In the other, the board opposed the recommendation to terminate the employee based upon documentation.