School district abolished

The members of the Hazlehurst City School District Board of Trustees received official notification on Friday that their services are no longer required.

The Hazlehurst City School District has been abolished, a measure that has been in the works for months. The state took over operation of the district in May 2008.

The school board has not participated in the district operations since shortly after the takeover.

Marvin Minor, who was elected to the school board in March 2008, said he received his certified letter on Friday informing him of the state’s action.

“The school district has been abolished,” Minor told the crowd Sunday afternoon at a community meeting held at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. “We have no more control over it.”

Under the initial state takeover, Minor explained, the state planned to take over the district and raise it to a certain standard before turning the district back over to local control. But now that the district has been abolished,  new elections and new appointments of board members will be necessary when the state leaves.

Two of the school district’s five trustees are elected while the other three are appointed by the Hazlehurst Board of Aldermen.

Minor, along with community leaders, legislators, and his fellow school board members Rev. Wyatt Lewis and Rev. Martin Washington, met with state Superintendent of Education Dr. Hank Bounds on Thursday. Bounds had told the board members to expect the letters. Washington described the meeting as “bittersweet.”

Although the school board no longer makes decisions for the district, the board members have continued to hold what they call “community meetings” to give parents and citizens a chance to vent their feelings about the problems within the Hazlehurst School District. The third community meeting was held Sunday afternoon at Antioch.

‘IT’S PERSONAL’

The school board tried to work with the state after the takeover, said Rev. Martin Washington, pastor of Antioch and one of the elected school board members. But three months after the state’s arrival in Hazlehurst the school board no longer participated in board meetings.

Hazlehurst is not the only district taken over by the state, Washington pointed out, but it is the only one that has been abolished. He believes that action was personal.

“Holmes, Panola, Jefferson Davis – those boards are still in place. The state has been there longer, but they are not dissolved yet. It is personal with Hazlehurst,” Washington told the crowd at the community meeting. “The problem is we’re too vocal. We questioned why. The other districts, did they just lay down and take it?”

Washington pointed out that school board members are paid $200 per  month – which is considerably less than he makes from his preaching career. “We’re not fighting for a board seat. We’re fighting for justice, and we’ll keep fighting until we get it,” he said.

The ousted school board members question the state’s authority to remove elected officials without input from the Department of Justice. An Attorney General’s opinion has been sought on the subject.

The group also seeks a new conservator, one who will be more willing to work with the community.

“By law they can take over,” said Minor. “We are not trying to get the state out. We just want someone here we can work with.”

Washington questioned some of the information coming from the state about the status of the district, especially regarding financial matters. He cited the hiring of new employees at higher salaries than those they replaced as an indication that the financial situation must not be as bleak as painted by the state.

There were no state officials present to comment on the complaints aired at the community meeting.

PROBLEMS CONTINUE

The group did not object to the state’s presence in Hazlehurst, nor deny the problems that led to the state takeover in the first place.

“Why did we wind up where we are now? Because jobs were not getting done that were supposed to be done. People were not doing their jobs,” said Minor. “That’s why I ran for school board in the first place. Things went wrong for us to end up where we are now.”

But the group questions some of the decisions and policies that have been put in place since the takeover. There are now problems in areas like transportation and with some teachers that did not exist before the takeover, according to the discussion at the community meeting.

Parents at the meeting were encouraged to share their concerns. Several parents and grandparents voiced the problems their students have been having, both specific issues with certain classes as well as general frustrations with trying to deal with the school district.

Minor, who is a former teacher and principal, advised the parents to continue contacting the principals and making appointments with the teachers to discuss their students’ problems. He pointed out that teachers do not have enough time between classes, and you can’t just walk into a classroom without an appointment because teachers have to concentrate on teaching their subjects. But the principals will help parents iron out their problems with teachers. “Try to do it by the rules first,” Minor urged.

CLASSES AS USUAL

Although the school district has been abolished, this will not effect the daily activities of students within the schools, Minor told the crowd. The students will still go to class on the same campuses, with the same teachers and principals. It just means that the state will make all the decisions for the schools without the participation of local officials.

Several parents at the community meeting remarked that student morale is very low.

The group encouraged citizens to attend the next official school district meeting, which was scheduled for Tuesday, January 27, at 12:30 p.m.

Another community meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday, January 31, at Antioch at which time the group may make plans for a march at the state capitol to bring greater attention to their concerns.

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