° empty

School board president questions addition of student liaison consultant

NATCHEZ — On the heels of sweeping budget cuts across all departments in the Natchez-Adams School District, school board members approved two items Thursday that some board members said wouldn’t exactly be money well spent.

The two items — $64,800 for a software program and $36,000 for a student recovery liaison consultant — were approved at the board’s regular monthly meeting Thursday at Robert Lewis Magnet School after much discussion by board members.

Superintendent Frederick Hill recommended to the board that Orlando Pannel, who served last year as an administrative consultant and child find liaison, be granted a 90-day contract in the 2013-2014 school year at $400 a day.

The child find liaison position was created to help decrease the dropout rates and increase the graduation rates in the district.

During the previous school year, Pannel was able to assist two high school students receive their diplomas and four students receive their GEDs, Hill said.

Board President Wayne Barnett said Hill’s request would make Pannel the highest paid person in the district, when compared to other employee’s salaries on a per-day payment schedule.

“We cut all these things in our budget, and then we’re going to turn around to pay $400 a day for a consultant?” Barnett said. “We’re in financial trouble…if we don’t tighten our belt and make the hard decision the board has to make, we’re going to be in trouble this time next year.”

Barnett told Hill and board members that he thought there were current district employees who could fulfill the responsibilities of the position without spending more money.

“We have enough people in our district to do what we’re paying an outsider to do,” Barnett said. “We’ve got more than enough people that can do that job.”

Federal Programs Director Marilyn Alexander-Turner told board members — after several asked what limitations the district had with the funding source — that the funds that would be used to pay Pannel’s contract were federal funds and had to meet certain requirements before being spent.

Hill told board members the child find liaison position was a solution he created after the board directed him to improve dropout rates in the district.

“However y’all decide to vote, you all asked me to do what I need to do to get the results,” Hill said. “This is the best way to do it, and my strategy to helping with the graduation rate.”

The board eventually approved the contract 4-1 with Barnett voting, “No.”

The board also approved to spend $64,800 on a software program for kindergarten through fifth-grade students called, SuccessMaker.

The program is administered to students in the afterschool program, Century 21.

A report was given to board members showing the various schools where the program was administered — Frazier, McLaurin and West elementary schools and Morgantown Middle School — and the academic gain of those students.

Board member Tim Blalock said the academic gains shown in the data didn’t seem to show sufficient enough results to warrant paying $64,800 for the program.

“Will this be critical to (the student’s) learning and growth and development?” Blalock said.

Board member Thelma Newsome said she didn’t believe it was the software that resulted in the low gains, but instead the amount of time the students were exposed to the software.

“The principals need to be charged for putting the kids on a computer for a certain number of hours each day,” Newsome said. “They need to do a better job of utilizing what they have.”

The board eventually approved the software purchase 4-1 with Barnett voting, “No.”

Nearly $2 million in budget cuts were implemented before the district adopted its budget, which also included a $250,106 increase in ad valorem tax funding from what it requested last year.

The cuts included reducing the district’s athletic budget by $42,832 and a $12,748 reduction in district travel.