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Headstart cuts discussed at Picayune School Board meeting

During Tuesday’s meeting of the Picayune School Board of Trustees, Picayune Memorial High School Curriculum Director Mary Williams presented the results from the 3rd Grade Literacy Assessment to the board.

Williams was proud to report that all 3rd graders from Nicholson, Roseland Park, and West Side Elementary Schools passed the Literacy Based Proficiency exam this year. Over 94.4 percent of South Side Elementary 3rd graders passed this year as well bringing the district total of 3rd graders passing to 98.4 percent.

Williams noted there were fewer good cause exemptions this year, which are for students who have received intensive remediation in reading for two years but still demonstrate a deficiency in reading.

Other than Stone County, Ocean Springs, and Jackson County, Picayune was the only other coast district with most of their schools at or above 95 percent passing.

Williams reported that only four students will have to re-test this summer. They will be tutored for a week before they take the test again on July 12th.

“We have high hopes that these four will make it on the next test,” Williams said. "It takes all of us working together from school board members to the central office staff, to our principals, teachers, and our students all working together."

Williams also credited the iReady program and the Millennium Group for helping show them how to grow.

In another matter, the Board heard from a report on Early Head Start’s plans to cut enrollment slots from the Early Head Start Program. The plan was to cut 20 enrollment slots from the program and add an additional staff member which stirred a disagreement on how to proceed from the board members.

Dr. Pamela Thomas, Director of the Early Head Start Program, explained that the cuts would be made through the children leaving the program already. Of the 20 slots to be cut, 10 are for children in private homes and 10 are for pregnant women holding a slot for their children. Board Member Frank Feeley disagreed with the plan.

“I am for the children first and the staff second. That’s the only reason I’m here," Feeley said. "We’re going to travel all over the place to these seminars, all over the country, then turn around here and cut 20 children. I can’t do that.”

Picayune Early Head Start Research and Data Manager Sonya Myers explained the reason for the slot reduction is due to rising costs to serving children. In order to avoid a deficit in their budget, Head Start had to eliminate a position that was there and increase the load on staff members serving children.

According to Myers, the new plan would allow them to stay within their budget and bring back a previously cut position to reduce the load on staff serving children.

Board President Frank Ford, along with Lori Blackmer and Feeley, wanted to know if cutting other expenses at Early Head Start, such as travel, would be a way to get the budget in line. Thomas said those were separate budgets with no effect on Early Head Start’s operating costs.

When laying off staff was proposed, Thomas said that wouldn’t solve the problem either.

“If I drop the teachers, you’re still going to have kids not being served,” Thomas said.

In the end, the vote for the Early Head Start Revision failed 3-2 with Blackmer, Ford and Feeley voting against while Edward, Stubbs and Jake Smith voted for. Ford then made a motion to hold a special meeting after the Board had more information concerning Thomas’s proposal. The motion passed.

Before adjourning the Board awarded Hotel and Restaurant Supply the job for a new walk in cooler and shelving for Picayune Memorial High School Cafeteria. The winning bid amount was $59,507.44 for the cooler and $9,897.30 for the shelving. The new equipment is expected to be installed this summer.

The next meeting is scheduled for June 13th.


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