State officials are on the ground and guiding the decision making process for the Hazlehurst City School District since the Governor signed an emergency proclamation for a state takeover of the school system.
“The district didn’t get in this hole overnight, and it won’t get out of it overnight,” said Dr. Joe Haynes, interim conservator.
The Hazlehurst district faces a budget shortfall of nearly $1 million, accreditation and leadership issues, and other problems that led to the state takeover.
But the news isn’t all grim. Haynes said there are “more positives than negatives” in the Hazlehurst school district.
“We have to start operating in a fashion that is correct,” Haynes told the group attending the school board meeting on May 28. “I don’t have an axe to grind, and I don’t know anyone here,” he pointed out. Prudent decisions will be made that are child-centered, not promoting anyone’s personal agenda, he told the group. His door will be open to everyone, but there will be no shenanigans.
After meeting with the children, Haynes declared the district has some good ones. “Hazlehurst has an excellent student body,” Haynes said. “But they need guidance.”
Haynes challenges students to read during the summer break. To bring the district up to the level it needs to be will take the efforts of everyone, including the students.
Jean Massey, state director of accreditation, is working with Haynes in the restructuring of the Hazlehurst district. She echoed his remarks on making it a “very open process” and invited the community members to tell them what is wanted for Hazlehurst.
“We want the schools in better shape than ever when the kids come back this fall,” said Massey.
Over the summer administrators will be attending training, job descriptions will be created. “Students will see a difference in the classrooms,” she said. “We must make sure that when they leave they will be proud of the education they received here.”
A lot of remedial work will be needed, and Massey urged parents to help spread the word. “We’ve got to get kids there when remedial help is available,” she said.
Whenever possible, they intend to bring in state personnel to conduct training and provide services so that it won’t cost the district money, Massey explained.
SCHOOL BOARD MEETING MAY 28
The interim conservator met with the school board last week, although not all board members attended. Three board members were absent: Marvin Minor, Rev. Wyatt Lewis, and Rev. Martin Washington.
Haynes pointed out to the crowd in attendance that every board member was invited to the meeting. “Some had other business, some chose not to come,” he said, but all were invited.
In their absence Haynes and board members Dr. Bettie McDaniel and David Huntington went ahead with the business on the agenda.
NO MORE OVERTIME
Dual employees will be prevented from incurring overtime because of dual jobs. Dual jobs will still be allowed – for instance, when a cafeteria worker also serves as a bus driver – but schedules will be adjusted so no one works more than 40 hours.
“This is costing the district thousands and thousands every month,” said Massey. “The district can’t afford it right now.”
Haynes realizes the cut in hours won’t be a popular move, but he points out that tough decisions must be made to help the district to recover from a serious budget deficit. “I know it’s a hardship on people, but this is not an employment service,” Haynes said. “We’ve got to get a handle on things that cost the district money. Look at it from the standpoint of what’s good for the kids.”
Better management of working hours also avoids legal problems, such as overtime lawsuits that have plagued the district in the past.
The bi-weekly payroll will be abolished for hourly employees in favor of a monthly payroll, effective July 1.
The district’s cash flow is at the end of the month, Haynes explained. The state funds arrive at the end of the month, so the paychecks need to be written when the money’s in the bank. This should help the district avoid overdrafts in future.
Business manager Nikki Holloway noted that this will not mean all twelve paychecks will be equal. Holidays such as spring break will affect the amount of employees’ paychecks.
Employees have been notified. State officials pointed out that this change was not sprung on them without warning.
PREVIOUS ACTIONS RESCINDED
Some actions taken in the executive session of the May 13 board meeting were rescinded, including the reimbursement of the superintendent of $350 for bond payment in accordance with the law.
The board also rescinded payment to Mrs. Hill, counselor at the middle school, her per diem rate as counselor for the remainder of the year.
The action was rescinded officially confirming in writing to James Holloway, high school principal, that the board has not altered its decision to non-renew his contract for the next school term.
The board rescinded assigning Superintendent Twyner as a signer for district checks to be effective May 14.
They also rescinded the action of securing the services of Precious Martin as board attorney on a retainer of $500 per month for five months in order to relieve the district of expensive legal fees due to the budget deficit.
Some of these items may be discussed again in future, but they had not been reviewed by the financial advisor before the May 13 actions were taken.
Nathaniel Armistad was reinstated as school board attorney. The financial advisor has informed them that the district’s legal fees are not unreasonable given the amount of work and number of lawsuits compared to other school districts, reported board president David Huntington.
A tax anticipation note was approved to borrow $450,000 from Copiah Bank for 14 months.
The 2008-2009 teacher salary was approved to bring it in line with new laws.
The 2008-2009 federal projects application was approved, with the conservator advising that it will be tweaked to use available funds in the most efficient manner to continue services.
The parental involvement policy for Title I was approved.
SalTec received approval to survey property in 16-1N-3W for a possible pipeline easement, which could be a financial benefit to the district.
A list of items were deleted from the inventory. Haynes said that everything coming into the district from now on would be signed for and someone would be responsible for it. Auditors are doing random fixed-assets checks and additional work will be done on the inventory.
Policies and procedures were approved for special education, as was a handbook for alternative school education.
NO SUMMER FEEDING PROGRAM
The action taken on May 13 to participate in the summer feeding program was rescinded. Haynes explained that parents had already been notified that the district would not be feeding students during the summer before the state officials arrived in the district. He expressed support for the summer feeding program and acknowledged the need for it, but pointed out the need to “study it and bring it back as it should be,” including ensuring that the money supplied for the program will support the program.
The board adjourned at 10:40 a.m. after having been in session about forty minutes.