January 26, 2013 11:23:07 PM
The Columbus Municipal School District is considering a move that would freeze all non-essential spending -- potentially including things like athletics travel -- beginning Feb. 1.
Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell and members of the board of trustees have said previously that the district is on sound financial footing this year, but board president Tommy Prude Saturday said that as they look at next year's budget, it's important to make sure the money isn't "funny."
But Columbus High School head basketball coach Sammy Smith, who was out of town visiting a college that is recruiting one of his players, wasn't laughing when he learned the news.
His varsity boys team has several away games remaining in the season, including district playoffs in Batesville which would put them on the road for multiple days. Such a decision could not only affect the remainder of their season but also scholarship offers.
"This is something that is vitally important to the kids' upbringing, their welfare, education, the whole thing," Smith said via telephone Saturday night, adding that he supports the board in anything they feel is necessary, but at the same time, he has to do what is best for his team.
"I've got to be proactive and think positive," he said. "I'll take pennies out of my piggy bank, borrow from my family ... pick up cans, whatever I've got to do to help our children in this situation, including if I have to do it personally."
The discussion was brought up at the conclusion of the board's one-year review of Liddell's performance Saturday morning at the Wingate by Wyndham hotel. They spent four hours behind closed doors in executive session, conducting the review.
"Is it the board that curtails spending, or is it a unilateral decision by Dr. Liddell?" board member Jason Spears asked when they returned to open session.
Board member Currie Fisher said Liddell can make the decision to cut spending, but the board will have to vote on it before it can be implemented.
Spears pointed out that such a decision could have far-reaching impacts, not only for the district's athletics programs but also for things like field trips and mandatory professional development.
Board President Tommy Prude said they will seek a clarification from Liddell about what she is defining in her sudden directive as "non-essential."
Liddell did not return phone calls Saturday night.
It is likely that a special meeting will have to be called if the freeze is to become active Feb. 1.
The next regularly scheduled school board meeting will be Feb. 11, and a special meeting will be held Feb. 16 to go over Liddell's performance review with her.
The board will hold its first budget meeting for the 2013-2014 school year on Feb. 23 at the central office.
Last February, the board made the controversial decision not to renew the contracts of 69 teachers and certified staff members in an effort to meet expenses through the end of the school year. The majority of the positions were restored in May.
Carmen K. Sisson is news editor at The Dispatch.
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