School Board divided on proposed cuts

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Members of the Board of Trustees for the Picayune School District could not agree on whether to allow 20 slots to be cut from the Early Head Start Program during Tuesday’s meeting.
During discussion of the proposal Board members Dr. Lori Blackmer, Frank Ford and Frank Feeley, expressed concern about the suggested move for two reasons, it would mean less children would receive care and educational services from the program, and the move included rehiring a staff member previously cut due to budget constraints.
Dr. Pamela Thomas, director of the Early Head Start Program in Picayune, said the move would be made not by removing children already in the program, but through attrition as 87 children transition into programs for older children. That would leave a total of 67 slots. Of the 20 slots to be cut, 10 of which would be for children in private homes and the other 10 are for pregnant women. Thomas said the slots for pregnant women essentially hold a slot for a child when they are born.
Blackmer, Ford and Feeley all asked why Thomas chose this route to get the budget in line, as opposed to cutting staff. Thomas said her staff is currently caring for more children than they should be, and the 10 slots for children being cut would not be at the two centers, located on Rosa Street and Highway 11, but at private residences. Previous coverage states that some families receive services by having an Early Head Start employee visit their home.
The Board members opposed to the cut also wanted to know if cutting other expenses at Early Head Start, such as the purchase of five new vehicles and travel for professional development, could be a way to get the budget in line. Thomas said those expenses are in separate funding categories and as such cutting them would not solve the problem. When laying off additional staff was proposed, Thomas said making that move would only further reduce services to the children.
Ultimately, the matter failed after a vote was taken, where Edward Stubbs and Jake Smith voted for Thomas’ proposed cut of 20 slots, and Blackmer, Ford and Feeley voted against it. Ford then made a motion to hold a special meeting after the Board was presented with more information on Thomas’ proposal. That motion was approved by all members except for Feeley.
In other matters, the Board heard performances by the Roseland Park Elementary chorus and West Side Elementary show choir.
A bid opening was also held during Tuesday’s meeting for a walk-in cooler and freezer to be installed at the high school campus. Two bids were submitted, one from Hotel and Restaurant Supply and another from Douglas Equipment. Hotel and Restaurant Supply bid the installation and purchase of the cooler and freezer at $59,507.44 with an additional $9,897 to install shelving, while Douglas Equipment bid the job at $64,766 with an additional $12,724 to install the shelving. The Board approved a motion to award the job to Hotel and Restaurant Supply.
The next Board meeting will be held June 13 at 5:30 p.m.

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