PRC School Board meets supes

Published 1:10 pm Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Pearl River County School District Board of Trustees held a special workshop with the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors at the request of Hudson Holliday. The workshop was the first step in creating open lines of communication between the school district and the county.

Holliday, County Supervisor for District three, presented the Board with the list of questions he hoped would trigger the dialog for the workshop prior to this special session last Monday. Dennis Penton, Superintendent of Education, assembled all the department heads and the different schools’ principals to provide the Supervisors with answers to those questions. Supervisors in attendance were Holliday and Patrick Lee, County Supervisor for District four. Adrain Lumpkin, County Administrator was also in attendance. The questions addressed educational concerns, needs of the different schools and departments, student/teacher ratios, and problems created through steadily increasing enrollment. They were also able to look at the areas in which the school district is excelling through the queries.

Toward the end of the session, School Board President, Michelle Boyd, summed up what she saw as the district’s greatest challenges. “Lack of money, shortage of teachers, increased enrollment, and lack of space,” she said. “I know its a tremendous amount but it’s also a necessity and a need.”

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Her challenges were backed up by the various reports presented previously in the evening. Penton and the district’s principals all expressed their frustrations with the lack of space. Science labs, teacher work spaces, temporary classrooms and floating faculty are just a few of the compromises district administration and faculty is currently making to accommodate their increased numbers of students. This year the district will serve approximately 3,000 students in outdated facilities. These numbers have been steadily increasing over the last five to six years.

“We are managing to do more with less,” said Penton. He said that his concerns were that teachers were losing space they needed to do their jobs and that large numbers of students are being educated in very small rooms not intended as learning environments.

Another concern expressed by all the principals was the outdated technology available to the classrooms. Penton said they are very grateful for the donated computers they receive from both Stennis Test Site and Folgers, but most of the equipment in the classrooms is already outdated by the time they receive it. They also lack smart boards, with the exception of the high school, and updated projectors for the classrooms.

Penton used the forum as an opportunity to gain ground on progress for three projects that the district would like to see to fruition: a road connecting Anchor Lake to W. Union which would benefit not just the school but the public, district offices for Penton and his staff and the need for a new school. While the requested road would be a starting point to readying the county for the new school, the ultimate goal is more space for a better teaching environment. Penton talked about starting the project with an elementary school that could later be converted to a high school.

Though definite plans were not made during this workshop to immediately address the needs, prices for the various projects were put on the table and the Supervisors agreed to ‘sit down and start sharpening pencils and to look at each project more seriously. Everyone agreed the needs were sufficient enough for more dialog in the future.

Another sticking point stemmed from the district’s transportation department. Lisa Beech, Transportation Director for the Pearl River County School District, approached the subject of her work towards getting more bus turn arounds to meet student safety needs. The district currently has 31 turn arounds. To determine if a bus turn around is necessary the school has several criteria in place the situation must fit, such as the age of the child and the length of the stop from the home. “We try to provide door to door service when we can,” said Penton. He continued that today’s challenges, such as increasing traffic on the roads of the ever expanding region, create the need for closer pick ups. Penton said the number one objective is to get the students to and from school safely.

Holliday expressed his concerns with creating, in some cases, frivolous turn arounds with tax payers money, but he also said that if the district was sensitive to the need, that the Supervisors would take care of them. Supervisor Lee added that he would be glad to go out and help investigate some of the calls the school received by concerned parents for turn arounds.

The school district was also able to demonstrate some of their areas of excellence to the Supervisors. Nina Guthrie, Assistant Superintendent, provided charts showing that in most areas across the board Pearl River District students were above the state and national averages in various standardized testing scores over the past couple of school years. “The teachers have done a tremendous job preparing students for these tests,” said Guthrie. Campus security reported their success with deterrents of drug use on campus, such as the constant threat that looms with the availability of drug dogs. The district also boasted their success with now having a full time county Forrester.

The County Supervisors got their turn to answer questions provided by the school district, which they also received prior to the event. When the topic turned to the county’s budget, Holliday turned the floor over to Lumpkin to explain the budget breakdown. Lumpkin provided everyone in attendance with a copy of the percentage breakdown for taxes paid by residents living in the Pearl River County School District only:

52% school

21% all county offices (including law enforcement)

13% road and bridge maintenance

6% fire district

6% college (Pearl River Community College)

2% reappraisal fund

Lumpkin stated that a huge chunk of funds go to law enforcement. The monetary needs of the county are still struggling to keep up with its list of demands.

The evening’s workshop came out an interest by the County Supervisors to help with education. Holliday concluded by saying that he wanted to hold this type of workshop with the hopes of improving the quality of education in all the districts in the county. “This [workshop] has been very informative to me… I tell you what, I know a lot more now than I did when I walked in here tonight,” he said. He reported, to the district’s credit, that Pearl River County School District was the first to engage in Supervisor’s workshop.

“Has this been informative?” Holliday asked the School Board members.

“It has and, if it translates into action, it [will be] beneficial,” said Penton.