Duck Hill parents rally to keep elementary school open

School officials want consultant to look at the situation
The Montgomery County School Board authorized its Board Attorney to research and compile a list of consulting firms that specialize in helping small school systems with financial crises in a meeting Tuesday night. The Board also authorized Attorney Cheynee Allen to ask for an Attorney General’s opinion on the legal status of not having a recommendation for a Duck Hill School principal.
Their action was in response to a request by a committee made up of six parents and educators that the Board look more closely at the finances of the entire school system, not just the Duck Hill Elementary School. Parents and teachers from both Kilmichael and Duck Hill Schools crowded the Kilmichael Elementary School cafeteria to find out what the Board planned to do about the District’s loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars each year brought out after a study by the Office of Financial Accountability under the Mississippi Department of Education.
Director Todd Ivey, who completed the study, told board members they needed to take action before the District runs completely out of 16th Section (timber) funds. He estimated that could happen either in the 2002-2003 or the 2003-2004 school year.
The Montgomery County School System has already consolidated middle and high school classes at Kilmichael. Only the elementary schools remain separate. One of the options suggested by Ivey’s report, and recommended by School Superintendent Carolyn Swanson, was to close Duck Hill Elementary, a move strongly opposed by some parents and Duck Hill community leaders.
School Board President Al White said that at their last meeting, the committee made suggestions they felt would help keep the Duck Hill Elementary School open:
n Set up an endowment fund to augment school funding;
nCut spending wherever possible;
nReplace career teachers with younger employees; and
nRequest state to increase in per-child rate.
Tuesday night, the committee asked for more time to study the issues. Committee spokesman Dorothy Johnson said so far, studies have only examined finances at the two elementary schools. “We’ve had a lot of information given to us in a short period of time,” she said. “We’d like to work with the School Board-but we need more time.”
Johnson said when Superintendent Swanson notified Duck Hill principal Dr. Josie Arrington she would not be recommended for re-hiring due to financial considerations, it seemed to parents as though their school was in immediate danger of closing. “Ask our superintendent to recommend our principal back to her job,” she told the Board. “It is personal to us-this is about our children. We just don’t feel comfortable putting our children on the school bus and bussing them clear across the county.”
A motion to find and hire a consulting firm with specialized knowledge passed unanimously (offered by Board member Evelyn Baskin, seconded by Brenda Norris). The School Board voted to hold a special meeting on Monday, April 1, at 5:30 p.m. in Winona to discuss consultants as well as the legality of not having a Superintendent’s recommendation for a principal at Duck Hill. Although not present at Tuesday’s meeting, Superintendent Swanson said earlier in the week that she had until school starts to recommend a principal for Duck Hill.
Michael Sayer, program director for Southern Echo, was also at Tuesday’s Board meeting. Earlier in the week, Sayer said his organization is supporting the Concerned Citizens of Montgomery County and Action, a non-profit community organization. He said he believes Swanson wants to close the Duck Hill School and by not nominating a principal, has resorted to “back door” tactics to that end. “She can be compelled to do that by a court,” he said.
Retiring teacher Harold Richardson, who addressed the Board at the beginning of the meeting, said he hopes to see cooperation between the superintendent and the Board. With state literacy rates compiled, he said the school system can be proud of their accomplishments in just a few years. “I ask God to lead us in the way of peace,” he said.

©The Daily Sentinel Star 2007

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