School board approves bonus plan

By PAT BROWN,

It is contract renewal time in the Simpson County School District. 

Staff recommendations for the 2019-2020 school year were approved last Thursday at the regular board meeting. 

The board also approved an additional bonus for new teachers who are certified in math or science and for new hires to district schools which have a lower state rating.  Dr. Robert Sanders, assistant superintendent for human resources and secondary curriculum, said this could amount to up to 18 positions.  The bonuses will be offered as incentives to attract teachers in these specific subject areas in which there is currently a shortage statewide. 

The board also approved extended school year hires for special education teachers as well as summer school staff for credit recovery for students who need additional assistance to meet standards.  The board also approved the hire of 31 summer maintenance workers for the district. 

 The board approved teacher raises in March as well as raises for central office staff.  Raises were approved for principals in the amount of $1,500 each and assistant principals $760 per year  each. 

The board rescinded the action of the previous school board from June of 2018 regarding the payment of $16,000 in delinquent accounts for school lunches.  The former board had voted to pay for the balance through the student activities fund.  The current board questioned the legality of that decision. 

The board was also made aware that the district will have to increase the prices charged for cafeteria meals in the district.  District Accountant Joanna Maddox told the board they have no choice if they want to continue to receive funding.  The amount of the increase has yet to be determined.  Maddox cited the “government shut down” as the reason the CEP calculation had not been determined. 

The current cost for meals is $1.25 for breakfast and $2.45 for lunch. Reduced cost meals are breakfast 30 cents, lunch 40 cents. Adult meals are  $2.25 for breakfast and  $3.25 for lunch.  Because the rates were not established by the government, the new rates can not be established by the district. 

According to Maddox, the number of students receiving free or reduced meals is based on income level for families rather than on who is receiving SNAP-- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.  She said the income level method qualifies more students because the parents are working but earning insufficient income. 

The board also discussed the funds donated to the school district to make sure all students receive meals and are not given a different meal or  refused a meal because they cannot pay.  

While a recommendation was made about the way funds were dispersed, board members were apprehensive about establishing a policy. 

The board heard from Tracye Pierre, principal of Magee Middle School.  Pierre reported to the board that there was much improvement at the school and that students were buying into programs that were helping with attendance and other issues that have previously decreased the overall rating of the school. 

Magee Middle had started at a 20.9 percent proficient rate in Reading and progressed to a 27 percent proficient level, an increase from 47.9 percent to 85 percent growth rate. The bottom level students have shown an increase from 52.5 percent to 123 percent in reading. Math has gone from 19.4 percent proficiency rate to 25 percent proficiency. They have maintained a 47 percent growth rate, but the bottom level growth rate has slipped from 48.5 percent to 45 percent. These rates are on the second benchmark levels. 

Discipline referrals have increased, but that is not necessarily a bad thing because traditionally an increase means that students are being held accountable.  It went from a low of three referrals in August to a high of 58 in March.  Aside from absences due to illness, attendance rates appear to have improved. An increase in absences during the winter months was because of illness.

Sydney Magee, principal of Mendenhall Junior High, reported growth at that school according to state standards as well as improved attendance.  The school is offering incentives to students to bring their overall ratings up.  The test data for Mendenhall was not available as it was in Magee. 

The P-16 Committee from Magee Middle School reported to the board some recommendations they would like to see implemented at the middle school. 

Committee member Terence Norwood, who made the presentation, first suggested that the school reconsider the location of the administrative offices at the facility.  Norwood’s  recommendation was to move the office from the middle of the facility to the outside corner so it would be accessible from the street.  Board member Lillie Hardy told Norwood his recommendation was right in line with information she had been able to learn through her many years in the school system.  She said his reasoning was right on target. 

Norwood also suggested that the board consider the student to teacher ratio in the district.  He cited the Mississippi Code where proper ratios were outlined. 

For Magee and Mendenhall schools that are having grade issues, the ratios are much higher than at Simpson Central School, where  there is a 1 teacher to 21 students ratio for fifth and sixth grade.  Magee ranges from 1 to 20 up to 1 to 33 (the maximum allowable).  Mendenhall Junior High ranges from a low of 1 to 17 to a high of 1 to 32.  At Simpson Central the 7th and 8th grade ratios are 1 to 18 on the lowest end with highest being 1 to 26.  It also must be remembered that Simpson Central’s student populatoni is much smaller. 

School board member Danny Cowart said he would like to see the same data for the entire school district so comparisons could be made across the board. 

It was reported that the planned location for the new field house in Magee would have to be moved to a site adjacent to the band hall. 

An April 24 hearing was set for considering the dismissal of an unnamed employee.  The hearing may be open to the public if the employee chooses.  It is set for the school district office board room at 9 a.m. 

At the recommendation of Superintendent Greg  Paes the board approved employing the services of attorney David Garner at the rate of $200 an hour as an advisor to Dr. Sanders in the employee termination hearing.  This is not required, but the board approved the recommendation since it is Sanders’ first hearing.