Bounds: School problems prompting changes

Published 5:00 am Friday, June 27, 2008

HAZLEHURST – Mississippi’s top education official recounted jobcuts and foretold of a complete restructuring of districtleadership Thursday night in a sobering update of events concerningthe state’s takeover of the embattled Hazlehurst City SchoolDistrict.

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Hank Bounds informed acrowd of parents, city leaders and concerned citizens the districtwould most likely be abolished and staffed with all new leadership.Approximately 40 certified and non-certified positions have alreadybeen cut in order to resurrect the district from its $1.6 milliondeficit.

“This is probably one of the worst-managed situations I’ve everencountered,” Bounds said, pointing out he has been a part of fivedistrict takeovers conducted by the Mississippi Department ofEducation. “You’re almost $2 million in debt, and in a small schooldistrict like this, that is an enormous amount of money.”

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Bounds said officials from the department of education have beenassigned to oversee 13 aspects of the district. Even with thoseofficials and a conservator who will control the district in place,it will take three to five years to erase the debt in thedistrict.

Bounds said the district reached its current crisis bymisspending money on personnel rather than students.

“The bottom line is this district has been used as somewhat ofan employment agency,” he said. “We will remove all the leadershipand start fresh. We’ve been here a couple of months, and we’restill uncovering new issues every day.”

There will be consequences for some district officials as thestate takeover progresses, Bounds said, though he declined toelaborate.

In the meantime, Bounds said state department officials willhave to focus on finding ways to make cuts to district spendingwithout damaging any academic programs.

Senior Assistant to the State Superintendent Jean Massey saidsome bus routes in the district may have to be cut and morenon-certified personnel will be released.

“We’ve used vacancies already there to eliminate some positions,but we’ve got to lose some cafeteria workers – there’s a vastshortage of that money,” she said, referring to a $400,000 gap inthe food service budget.

Massey said the money lost from the district came from localfunds, which districts use as “everyday” money for operations.Federal funds will be called down to help the district get back onits feet, she said, as 22 teacher vacancies have to be filled forthe 2008/2009 school year.

Massey reiterated Bounds’ prediction of completely rebuildingthe district’s leadership, but that aspect of the takeover ismeeting with some resistance from local residents.

Chris Perkins, a member of the Copiah County MinisterialAlliance and Concerned Citizens for Hazlehurst City Schools, saidseveral parents and local leaders are upset about the lack ofinvolvement the department of education as afforded toSuperintendent Karl Twyner, who began approximately one monthbefore the department appointed a conservator and took over thedistrict.

Perkins said Twyner, who was not involved in the misdealingsthat have brought the district under state control, took office asthe community’s answer to the corruption.

“The conservator appointed by the state shut him out – he isn’tincluded in any meetings or decisions,” Perkins said of Twyner.”The concern in the community is, ‘What are you going to do withour superintendent?’ Our board hired him, and he’s the man wewant.”

Perkins said several Hazlehurst residents want Twyner to remainon duty throughout the state takeover, and many are upset thatoutgoing conservator Dr. Joe Haynes – who will move to assistantconservator when his current post is filled by former Lanier HighSchool Principal Stanley Blackmon Tuesday – has overruled many ofTwyner’s decisions.

“The conservator has overruled the wishes of the community,”Perkins said. “As a conservator, he has the authority to do that,but he’s not been fair in his dealings.”

Haynes said his decisions were made in the best interest of thedistrict.