Official: West Elementary school overcrowded

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, May 18, 2016

NATCHEZ — West Elementary School is so crowded it has been difficult to find room for some classes during this month’s testing, an administrator told the Natchez-Adams School Board Thursday.

Operations Manager Larnell Ford said two more stand-alone, portable buildings were needed for the next school year at a cost of $200,000.

“My question is, where is the money coming from?” board member Thelma Newsome said. “We have known for some time West is overly crowded, so I am not surprised, especially during testing time, that the principal doesn’t have somewhere for classes to meet. But the big thing is money.”

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Ford said even if the process started today, it would be late September before the new classroom spaces came in. He said he was concerned a delay could impact students further.

The class buildings would house two classrooms for up to 60 students and a computer lab. Interim Superintendent Fred T. Butcher said the computers are already purchased for the lab through a federal program and the district is waiting for a place to put them.

Butcher and the board elected to table this matter until funding could be identified.

“We need time to see where money is coming from,” he said. “The budget calendar is already made, and we are trying to get back on track with that. We are waiting to see where we will be staffing and student wise.”

Staffing was also a concern at the board meeting, as Butcher said the district is now without 60 people filling teacher positions, compared to 45 this past month.

Butcher proposed suspending a board policy that enables the district to suspend the license of employees when they leave the district while under contract. Butcher said he wanted the board of trustees to consider getting rid of the blanket policy and letting the district take it on a case-by-case basis.

“There are a couple of reasons. No. 1, if someone doesn’t want to be here, we shouldn’t want them to be here anyway,” he said. “No. 2, we might be losing some professional people not coming to the district for fear something might come up during the year and they might get their license suspended.”

Newsome said as she understood it, in practice the only time the district pursued the policy was when a teacher refused to stay until the superintendent found a replacement.

When asked about the legality of a suspension, Board Attorney Bruce Kuehnle Jr. said the board can recommend a suspension, but the ultimate decision is with the Mississippi Department of Education.

Board member Benny Wright said the children suffer if they are without a teacher. He believed the district needed a policy with teeth.

“As Frederick Douglass said, the slave who is abused the easiest, will be abused the most often,” he said. “We will be the whipping boy.”

Board member Phillip West said he understood Wright’s point, but he believed the district should try the superintendent’s recommendation.

“If you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you can’t expect different results,” he said. “I’m not saying we won’t revisit this issue in another year. If it is worse, then we go back to the policy. If it is better, then we need to do something different.”

The board voted 4-1 to suspend the policy.