Board delays vote on Reese Road Academy's charter school renewal

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 17, 2014 

The Muscogee County School District administration building is at 2960 Macon Road.

MIKE HASKEY — mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

The Muscogee County School Board was scheduled to vote on the application to renew Reese Road Leadership Academy's five-year charter during Monday night's meeting, but the agenda item was pulled.

Board chairman Rob Varner of District 5 said he agreed with superintendent David Lewis that Reese Road principal Pam McCoy needs more time to answer the questions that arose about the application during the board's work session last week.

"We want this board to have more accurate information as well as the principal has expressed her desire to make revisions to the charter," Varner said.

After the meeting, Varner said voting on the charter next month still would allow Reese Road to make the state's deadline.

Last week, McCoy faced tough questioning from Cathy Williams, the nine-member board's lone county-wide representative. Williams was absent Monday night, but she expressed these concerns last week:

• Falling short on some of the goals for standardized test scores the school set in the original charter five years ago.

• Requesting to limit the enrollment to 450 students. It is around 600 now.

• Thirty-seven percent of Reese Road's faculty and staff disapproved of the charter renewal application.

Charter schools are public schools given a certain degree of autonomy from rules and regulations in exchange for setting and meeting measurable goals. Clubview Elementary and Wynnton Arts Academy are the district's other charter schools.

E-cigarettes banned

The board unanimously approved the superintendent's proposal to ban e-cigarettes and other electronic tobacco products from the school district.

The policy revision prohibits the use of an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette), electronic vaping device, personal vaporizer, electronic nicotine delivery system or battery-powered device which simulates tobacco smoking.

The issue was discussed during the January work session. The board had to wait 30 days before adopting the new policy.

The only comment about the ban Monday night came from District 2 representative John Wells, who equated the change to the district's gun policy.

"It has the same principle," he said. "If you bring a fake gun (to school), you get suspended; if you bring a fake cigarette, you get suspended. So we had to make that modification in the policy."

Budget parameters

The board unanimously approved the following parameters to formulate the school district's budget for fiscal year 2015, which will start July 1:

• 1.5 mils for the Chattahoochee Valley Regional Library System.

• Personnel reductions to be adjusted through repurposing employees based on skill level and certification when possible.

• ¼ mil set-aside for capital expenditures.

• Pass along salary step increase to qualifying personnel.

• Develop a budget and calendar with no furlough days.

• Retain operating millage rate of 23.37 mills if possible.

• Maintain a fund balance consistent with best practice.

District 4 representative Naomi Buckner questioned why the budget parameter for the fund balance is expressed as "best practice" instead of a dollar amount or number of days.

Sharon Adams, the district's chief financial officer, said the fund balance was 26 days at the end of last fiscal year but the Government Finance Officers Association recommends two months for a good credit rating.

Lewis said he will require the district's divisions and departments to use zero-based budgeting for the first time. That means every expenditure request, even if it was approved the previous year, must be authorized on its own merit.

Wells praised the administration for persevering through state revenue cuts amounting to a district budget that, adjusted for inflation, is about 10 percent lower than it was 12 years ago.

"Even though we've had adjustments from the state in the downward spiral for the last eight or 10 years, our district is in sound financial condition and we're carrying forward programs we need to educate children," Wells said. "My hat's off to the finance department and the superintendent."

Lewis, hired in July from Polk County, Fla., returned the kudos.

"I'd like to commend this board and the previous administration for making sure we did not have furlough days," Lewis said. "Some of our neighbors to the north not only suffered through inclement weather days that resulted in anywhere from five to nine days but some of those same districts also had furlough days. So in many cases, students were lacking anywhere from 15 to 20 days when you combine the furlough days and weather days, which is really critical for student engagement and the instructional time that's lost."

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