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Employee checkscould be expensivefor school districts

New school employees will now be subject to criminal backgroundchecks, and Brookhaven School District officials are consideringhow to fund and proceed with carrying out the new state law.

“Many different districts are doing it many different ways,”said Superintendent Dr. Sam Bounds during discussion at Monday’sBoard of Trustees meeting.

Bounds said the minimum cost is $22 per employee and otherfactors could push the total as high as $50. The superintendentsaid some districts have been passing the costs on to the employeewhile other districts have been absorbing the costs.

The cost and who the district will work with on finger-printingservices for the checks were main issues that needed to be decided,Bounds said. He suggested the district contact the BrookhavenPolice Department.

A new state law requires any employee hired after July 1, 2000,to undergo a criminal background check. Bounds said the districtaverages about 70-75 new employees a year, and the background checkwould factor into their employment.

“Every (employment) recommendation will be contingent on passingthe background check,” Bounds said.

School officials cited morale and incentive issues as reasonsfor the district to absorb the check costs. Bounds said thedistrict paying for the check could be an incentive for a goodteacher to come to Brookhaven instead of going to a district wherecosts are passed on to employees.

Trustees instructed Bounds to contact the city police departmentabout finger-printing services and costs. The board indicatedsupport for the district paying for the background checks.

“The spirit of it is we’re willing to absorb the costs as longas they’re not astronomical,” said Carl Aycock, chairman of theboard.

In other business, trustees approved a resolution to take out a$116,000 shortfall note for the current fiscal year. The note isneeded because of a shortfall in expected tax revenue.

The note will be paid back over three years, with yearlypayments of around $41,000. The school board action requires thecity to levy and collect enough in property taxes to pay theshortfall note.

The school board has taken out shortfall notes previously in1995, 1993 and a few other times, said Bob Allen, boardattorney.

Also Monday, trustees met Dr. Vicki Bodenhamer, executivedirector of the Mississippi School of the Arts. She updated boardmembers on emergency repairs under way on Whitworth campusbuildings and architects’ plans for the school that will open inAugust 2002.

“They’re doing an excellent job of blending the historic campuswith the contemporary,” Bodenhamer said.

The director said she hopes to bring a large model of the artsschool to Brookhaven soon. She was looking for a public place socitizens may be able to view it.

Bodenhamer said the arts school and the city school districthave a good relationship, and she was looking for great things fromthe arts school.

“I believe we can set a national model here in Brookhaven,Miss.,” Bodenhamer said. “That’s my goal.”

On a related note, Robert Freeman, construction companysuperintendent, and Keith Saucier, with architect MichaelBarranco’s firm, updated board members on Brookhaven High Schoolproject plans.

Freeman said demolition work on the campus is about 35 percentcompleted and bids for construction phases of the improvementproject are to be opened Thursday.

Regarding points of interest, Bounds said Lipsey Principal RitaRich has been named a “National Distinguished Principal” by theNational Association of Elementary School Principals. Bounds saidthe association selects a minimum of one principal and a maximum oftwo per state for the recognition.

“It’s quite an honor for Mrs. Rich but also for the BrookhavenSchool District,” Bounds said.