The Clarksdale Municipal School District is planning for the future and will be ready to move when state and federal dollars finally make their way down to the classroom.
The chief strategy officer position and other personnel matters highlighted discussion during the Clarksdale Municipal School District board meeting recently.
CMSD superintendent Dr. Earl Joe Nelson plans to hire a chief strategy officer and the position will be paid through the $13.2 billion federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.
Board members Zedric Clayton and LaFiesta Roland expressed concerns since the ESSER funds had not officially been approved. The ESSER funds are part of the $30.75 billion CARES Act that was signed into law in March 2020.
“We’re going to offer this position without an approved budget?” Clayton asked.
“We’re going to get it approved,” Nelson replied.
“When?” asked Roland in response.
Nelson explained he had spoken with the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) and has been given permission to move forward. He added the MDE would get the funding for the chief strategy officer and other positions paid for through federal dollars approved.
“I explained to you the purpose of bringing this position to move ESSER 2 or 3 forward a little faster,” Nelson said. “Once I get this position, we’re going to move really fast on ESSER type things. Because, right now, we’re dealing with ESSER 1 still, ESSER 2 and ESSER 3 and now our federal allocation has happened. That’s a lot of things that are happening at one time and all of these things have deadlines.”
Roland looked for clarification.
“So they’re going to see that the money is allocated for us to be able to pay these people until we receive the fundings?” Roland said.
“So, Ma’am, we can’t pay anything until we get the funds in,” Nelson replied.
Roland asked if the CMSD could hire employees at positions paid for through federal dollars before the funding was approved.
“That’s what I just said,” Nelson said. “I said MDE realizes that we need to have these positions in place so we can move the district forward. So, yes, they realize we have to go and approve positions and then we’ll go back and get everything approved. This position is to help with that. We’ve met with them on several occasions and they’ve told us we can move forward on the positions we need to get approved.”
Responding to a query from board president Delores Harris, Nelson said the positions paid for through federal dollars were in the budget.
“So until these projects are approved, the district will have to foot the bill until the money comes through?” Clayton said.
“So we’ve allocated money in our budget for positions that we don’t have,” Nelson replied. “And so we’re going to be OK until the position is approved. And once we get our federal allocation approved, then we’ll draw that money back down to the district at that time. That’s for all federal positions.”
“So you’re saying that we have enough money on the district side to take care of these federal positions until federal dollars come through?” Clayton asked in response.
“Yes, I am. That’s what I’m saying,” said Nelson in an attempt to clarify.
In other business:
Another item of discussion relating to personnel came when the board adopted a policy for classified employees, who work under the direction of a certified teacher, to be able to file a grievance.
“What happens if a classified or support staff person, their grievance is with the superintendent?” Clayton said.
Director of human resources Rosalyn Griffin said the superintendent has the final decision with classified employees.
“Your classified employees are at-will employees so the superintendent definitely could have the right to say that’s it, his decision is final if that’s what the board says,” Griffin said. “Most school districts, if the employee is at-will, the decision rests on the superintendent. It does not go any further.”
“Most school districts, but what have we set forth?” Roland replied.
“You didn’t have a policy that addressed it,” said Griffin.
“We didn’t have a grievance policy?” Clayton asked.
“Not for classified,” Griffin replied.
“Wow,” said Roland after Griffin’s response.
Clayton asked what policy the CMSD was following.
“No policy,” Nelson said. “There wasn’t a policy. It never existed.”
“And no one even thought about it or considered doing one. Is that what you’re all telling me?” Roland asked.
“That’s what we’re doing right now,” said Nelson.
Board member Sandy Stillions said matters being discussed have not been an issue until recently.
“You know I mentioned so many people were resigning and I had not seen that in our community before in my life,” Roland said. “And you told me, Mr. Stillions, ‘oh yes, this has been happening.’ I said, ‘well, that’s a red flag right there.’”
“Well, it’s been going on for years,” Stillions replied. “I mean people change. People move to other towns, they move to another job. We have a lot of resignations.”
Roland said she felt there had been recent rise in resignation, but didn’t give numbers.
The board also approved a salary scale for school nurses.
Nurses with an associate degree will have a base pay from $35,890 to $54,285 depending on years of service in the district. Nurses with a BSN will earn between $38,280 and $62,120. Nurses with a master’s degree will earn between $39,444 and $65,495. Nurses with a doctorate will earn between $40,608 and $68,870.
Following discussion of personnel matters, Roland expressed concern that nine resignations were on the list for the September meeting. The board approved hires, terminations and resignations by a 3-2 vote.
Harris, board members Joan Morris and Stillions were in favor. Roland and Clayton opposed.
“I would like to know why these people have resigned,” Roland said.
“If you want to discuss personnel, that’s executive session,” Harris replied.
“OK, thank you,” said Roland.
Harris explained how the process works.
“Now, there is a checkout,” Harris said. “When people are resigning, they are supposed to - it has been the customary practice - they have an exit interview. Now that we have a HR person, they pretty much handle that. In the past, it was the assistant superintendent that handled the exits.”
Roland said she was concerned and again said she felt resignations were on the rise, again without giving numbers or details.
Harris and Roland continued going back and forth. Harris said there have been this many resignations since she became a board member in 2015.
Roland asked if anyone looked into why there were so many resignations.
“That’s why they had developed a checkout process. Assistant superintendent Matthews (Dr. Toya Matthews) handled those exits for those employees who desired to have that meeting with her,” said Harris, adding not all employees wanted to do that.
Roland said when she retired from the CMSD in 2011, there were not so many resignations, but she did not give exact numbers to back up her claim.