School board holds budget hearing, honors Bender

Published 3:55 pm Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Former Maroon Tide basketball player and NBA star Jonathan Bender stopped by the meeting of the Picayune school board last night to say hello to his old coach — and to see his high school number, 24, retired.

The Picayune Municipal Separate School District board had just finished its public hearing on its proposed $31.9 million budget for the 2007-2008 school year when Bender ducked into the room. He took a seat in a chair behind district superintendent select and former basketball coach Dean Shaw that with Bender’s lanky 7-foot frame folded onto it appeared to have been manufactured for a Kindergarten student and listened as two representatives of the Diamond Club pitched a proposal for $25,000 worth of improvements at the district’s baseball park.

Diamond Club president Fred Cruse and member Derwin Bales asked the board to spend nearly $14,000 for improvements mostly to the field house, or Hack Shack, so named because it includes batting cages. The actual value of the improvements, which include air conditioning, weather proofing, carpeting and other items would be about $25,000, while the actual cost of making the improvements would be about $17,000. The overall cost to the district will be reduced because the district’s maintenance department will be able to do some of the electrical work, by vendor donations and the booster club is donating $3,000 to the district.

“We can’t raise all the money and really need some help with this,” Cruse said. “On days like today, the temperature inside that building is unbearble.” The high temperature for Tuesday as recorded on the weather station at Picayune Junior High School at 96.7 degrees.

Bales said he had been able to get the costs of some of the work reduced by vendors who would donate some of the labor or materials to the school district.

“I went to people and told them this was for the school district and asked them to help us with it, if they could,” Bales said.

The school board voted to approve the $14,000 expenditure, then board chairman Harvey Miller announced other improvements at the ball park in the form of additional paving that would be made through an America Help to Vote grant, since a polling place is located in the concession stand. Miller said a short, two-lane road would be paved to the polling place, along with at least five parking places and a turning area.

Following the presentation on improvements at the ball park, Shaw introduced his former star player to the school board, though he really needed no introduction to people who had watched him play in high school and had followed his career in the NBA.

The board had voted to retire Bender’s number at a previous meeting and the basketball star said he came by to the meeting to thank the board for its action. Shaw told Bender and the board that two jerseys actually worn by Bender when he lead the Maroon Tide team will be framed, with one going in the trophy case at the high school and the other to be presented to Bender at a basketball game during the 2007-2008 school year.

The former coach offered Bender his choice of the jersey he wanted for himself and Bender chose the gray-and-maroon jersey he wore at a playoff game his senior year. Shaw pointed out paint stains on the back of the jersey, stains acquired because Bender and other members of the team rested their backs against the newly painted walls of the locker room in Mendenhall at a South State playoff game, not knowing the paint wasn’t completely dry.

The maroon-and-gray jersey will be placed in the trophy case.

In her highlights of the 2007-2008 budget, district business manager Lisa Penton pointed out:

— Some really big news for district tax payers. The general obligation bonds from the 1980s have been paid off, as have the costs of the power retrofit that was done about 10 years ago.

— The district is still saddled with unfunded mandates from the state from previous years of $132,000 on the .55 retirement increase and $221,400 on the teacher step raise and $400,000 in projected expenditures for building and roof renovations at the central office.

— Other expenditures not funded by the state include any building and repair projects; athletic, fine arts and some vocational programs; transportation, maintenance and custodial costs; instructional and library supplies, and worker’s compensation and general liability insurance.

— The assessed valuation of district property has risen from $120.6 million in 2006 to $130.5 million in 2007.

— Revenues for 2007-2008 are projected to be $31.8 million while expenditures are $31.9 million.

— Fund balance projections are $1.69 million for June 30, 2007, without hurricane funds and $1.87 million for June 30, 2008, without hurricane funds. The state mandates a 5 percent fund balance, though recommending a 7 percent fund balance. The district wants an 8 percent fund balance, which would be $1.96 million for June 30, 2008.

The board also voted to appoint a committee to review senior project requirements at the high school and hear complaints about the senior project requirements from parent Ginger Purvis.

Purvis complained that not all projects required equal effort or were actually academic in nature. She also said judging for the projects was inconsistent and that assigning it to the teachers who taught senior English took away from English instruction.

The board approved the handbooks for next year, but with two significant alterations. Students now will be required to have at least an score of 85 in a class before being able to qualify for exemption from exams and odd hairdos and unnatural hair colors will continue to be banned at the junior high and high school.

The district also will be looking for another junior high band director. Cindy Leggett has resigned as PJHS band director to take a position in the Pearl River County School District. Also, basketball Coach Daniel Kennedy now will receive a $500 supplement for his summer basketball program and Alan Dedeaux will move from assistant principal at PMHS to director of the Career and Technology Center.

In other action, the board:

— Approved personnel matters.

— Approved consent items, including a donation of $165.75 from PJHS choral boosters to the school district.

— Approved dues of $4,000 for the school board association and $1,250 for the superintendents association.

— Accepted grants for homeless children and youth and for a puppet arts theater.

— Agreed to let PRCC use the Career and Technology Center for GED testing.

— Approved an agreement with Miss. Action for Progress, Inc.

— Approved a corrective action plan for the gifted education program.

— Went into executive session on a disciplinary matter.

Adjourned until Tuesday, June 26.