Board OKs funding for teacher training

Published 12:02 pm Friday, October 1, 2010

Split votes were recorded on big-ticket items put before the Vicksburg Warren School District board of trustees Thursday night, but members were united in refusing to pay $800 for four trees they were told the City of Vicksburg requires be planted at Warrenton Elementary.

Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Duran Swinford’s request to spend up to $174,000 to contract a professional development consulting firm for teacher training passed, with District 3 trustee James Stirgus Jr. dissenting.

Swinford said the spending is necessary to continue improving the district’s test scores and accountability ratings, and she was met with support from board president Zelmarine Murphy, the District 2 representative.

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“I have been saying for some time that we need some guidelines for curriculum at the junior highs and the high schools,” Murphy said. “We need to zero in on the core courses for the tests that the kids must pass.”

Stirgus questioned a number of spending issues the board considered, from rubber-stamping salary supplements and stipends to relying too heavily on casino revenues.

“When we’re worried about how much money is going to be coming in, we need to be careful about spending,” he said after the meeting.

Funds to pay the consulting firm will come from Title I money provided by the federal government, Swinford said. “These are additional dollars given to us, and they will be used to pay for job-embedded professional development that will not pull teachers out of the classroom.”

She said the firm, JBHM Education Group of Jackson, has been hired in other districts with great success, notably schools in Wilkinson County, where student test scores jumped two levels.

District 4 trustee Joe Loviza pointed out that federal funds still come out of taxpayers’ wallets, but moved the proposal’s acceptance “at the price quoted.”

With Stirgus dissenting, the board also approved a list of proposed capital improvements with a price tag of about $250,000.

Items include ripping out carpet in some classrooms at South Park and Beechwood elementary schools and in the auditorium at Redwood and replacing them with tile, at a cost of more than $19,000; replacing the gym floor at Bowmar Avenue, $40,400; enlarging the dressing room at the Warren Central High School football stadium, $48,700; and creating a turn-around for traffic at Vicksburg Junior High, $100,000.

Of critical importance, as a safety issue, is replacing a section of the visitor stands at the Vicksburg High School stadium, where concrete supporting the stands has begun to crumble. “You can see the rebar,” said building and grounds supervisor Morris Keith. “It needs to be addressed.”

Swinford also presented, and won approval for, a reorganization plan that will revamp current deputy and assistant superintendent duties and create a new position of assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Currently, the district has no one in the role.

“We have had great gains in our schools, but are they all sustainable?” Swinford said. “We need to put some things in place to make sure they continue.”

Among other duties, the new administrator would be charged with making sure both junior high schools and both high schools are teaching the same things at the same pace.

Swinford’s initial plan included four “content trainers” to assist with curriculum supervision in the areas of English, social studies, biology and algebra. Those positions were removed by the board before approving the plan.

Current assistant superintendent Debra Hullum, who oversees many operational and financial functions in the district, would remain in her position, Swinford said. The role of deputy would be eliminated, she said.

In other VWSD business, a requested change order to a Warrenton Elementary addition project would have authorized $800 for landscaping reportedly required by the city, with the cost to come out of contingency funds.

The city’s original demand, reportedly based on a parking lot ordinance, had been that 14 trees be planted around the school, where construction has added a new wing of classrooms and required repaving of the driveway and parking lot. Negotiations had brought the number down to four, the board was told by a representative of the contractor.

That requirement had not been made known to the district when the initial plans were reviewed, said District 5 trustee Tommy Shelton, and suggestions were made by Murphy to seek donated trees or other free sources.

Trustees noted that no one from the city explained the requirement or provided supporting documentation, and the spending proposal died for lack of a motion.

Trustees then asked Swinford to send a letter to city Building and Inspections Director Victor Gray-Lewis to meet with trustees at a future meeting.

In a separate interview, Swinford said she had hoped to make a recommendation to the board Thursday for a new special education director to replace Dr. Susan Bentley, who resigned June 30.

“That did not work out and we have re-advertised the position.” Swinford said.

Heidi Chausse has been managing the department on an interim basis.

On the agenda

Meeting Thursday, the Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees:

• Approved the minutes of the Aug. 26 regular board meeting and Sept. 14 called meeting.

• Accepted donations: from Vicksburg Outlet Partners, $50 to benefit the Warren Central Junior High cheerleader program and $50 for the Vicksburg High School Gator Girl program; from Target-Take Charge of Education to benefit student activities funds, $38.63 for Warren Central High School, $28.69 for Vicksburg Junior High and $43.54 for VHS; $100 from Church’s of Rolling Fork to benefit the VJHS boys basketball team; and assorted school supplies valued at $200 from the Retired Education Personnel of Vicksburg Warren County to be distributed to students from the district’s School Social Work Unit.

• Approved amendments to the 2010-11 budget.

• Approved accounts payable claims docket for August.

• Approved personnel matters: compensation for extra duties, August; certified staff hires; classified personnel staff hires; and recommendations for substitutes, mentors and tutors.

• Approved out-of-state travel for: Warren Central High School choral group to attend the Atlanta Heritage Music Festival, April 15-17, and choral directors Nancy Robertson and Daniel Vernon to attend the American Choral Association convention in Chicago, March 9-12; the WCHS NJROTC to travel to the USS KIDD in Baton Rouge, today and Oct. 6, for Navy warship orientation; Beechwood Elementary faculty to attend the Educators’ Symposium for Accelerated Learning in Dallas, Nov. 4-6; GATES students from Beechwood, Bowmar, Bovina, Vicksburg Intermediate and Warrenton to attend the Louisiana Renaissance Festival in Hammond, Nov. 18; VHS Gator Girls Squad to attend the National Dance Team Championship in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 3-7; and the VHS Mississippi River Class to visit the Mat Sinking Unit during the month of October.

• Approved the sale of surplus property to high bidders, advertising for bids for the sale of capital assets designated as surplus, deleting surplus capital assets for which no bids were received and donating a recycling trailer given to the district by the City of Vicksburg in 1999 to Midd-West Industries.

• Approved the purchase of a sign to be installed at Vicksburg Intermediate.

• Approved a request from Central Mississippi Prevention Services for transporting students to an after-school tutoring program.

• On 16th Section lands, approved the sole bid from Good Hope Inc. for timber purchase at the Kings Point parcel ($27,998) and rejected the sole bid from Good Hope for timber purchase at the Davis Island parcel ($113,998). The board will re-advertise for bids at Davis Island later.

• Approved the purchase of three NEO2 labs for literacy instruction from sole source vendor, Renaissance Learning Program, for $15,932.07.

• Approved the school and district Test Security Plan as required by the Mississippi Department of Education.

• Approved the special education project application for IDEA Part B and preschool.

• Approved change orders 3 and 4 for the Vicksburg Junior High addition project to add sheetrock behind old marker boards in the existing building and add five days to the contract to complete that change. The $1,213 cost will come from the contingency fund.

• Designated board attorney Briggs Hopson to select a hearing officer and represent the board at the appeal of a certified employee’s termination.

• Awarded the contract for replacing the Grove Street School roof to low bidder, Guaranteed Roofing Company ($94,950).

In executive session, the board:

• Accepted the resignations of three certified staff and approved the release of a fourth, with a scheduled termination hearing.

• Approved re-advertising for bids for surveillance cameras on buses after revising the bid specifications.

• Voted on requests for student transfers.

• Voted on an employee’s request to use donated leave.

• Voted on the recommendations of the district’s Discipline Review Committee