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Sewell: Student travel funding is a budget issue

December 7, 2011

By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
sdnedu@bellsouth.net

Starkville School District Interim Superintendent Beth Sewell told the school board that the issue of student travel funding comes down to a budget issue at the board’s regular meeting last night.
The board is often asked to partially fund class field trips, group trips to competitions, festivals or invitationals to help lighten the financial burden of the students’ families. The board members have been debating how they should go about approving funding for student trips — which groups should get funding, how much money they should get and what reasoning the board should use in approval.
Sewell researched how other districts around the state handle the issue, but said guidelines for the board were still a work in progress. She recommended there be a distinction between a competition and a trip, and between something that is required as part of the curriculum and something that is just for fun when the board makes a decision on funding.
“It is our responsibility as a district to make sure that no child is left behind. If it is something that is required and there is an issue with funding of our students and they are not able to handle it financially, then it is our responsibility as a district to take care of it,” she said.
The school board has just $15,000 in its budget to give to student groups for trips, which board member Pickett Wilson suggested members think about increasing in the future. Each school also has a budget for student travel, but it is also very limited and administrators have to be discerning in which groups receive funding.
“It’s going to have to be a budget issue that is going to have to be determined at each school level so they don’t have to come to (the school board). Some of this needs to be handled at the school level,” Sewell said.
Sewell said she hopes to get some guidelines as soon as possible.
The board also discussed the bids for a security fence at Starkville High School. Sewell and Assistant Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin said although they feel the fence is needed to provide a enclosed campus for security purposes, the bids were much higher than expected.
The bid was for a decorative fence, similar to the one at the Henderson Ward Stewart campus — except for the end of the campus near the Millsaps building, which would be a chain link fence — that would have completely enclosed the campus.
“We’ve had some issues on that south end, some concerns that the administrators have seen that we need a closed campus — the kids getting off the campus, people coming on to our campuses. We’ve had to face this problem on other campuses, on the hill (Henderson Ward Stewart), where we have this nice decorative fence, now we don’t have these issues,” Gonsoulin said.
Due to the unexpected expense, the board voted to reject all the bids.
Gonsoulin acknowledged that the fence was just one of many rather expensive projects that are much needed throughout the district. Another such project is the White House at SHS, where the art program is housed, which has water and structural damage which will require a renovation in the future.
“With the bond issue, we have been able to address many of the facility issues across the district, but I don’t want to fool anyone and I want to educate you on the fact that we have many more needs that are very, very pressing, with the White House being one (and) the air conditioning of the gym at Henderson,” Gonsoulin said. “We still have some major projects, and we’re going to have to think as a district how do we come up with some of the funding for those projects.”
In other business, the school district discovered it is actually part owner of J.L. King Park, which was used by Henderson High School as a football field before the district integrated several decades ago. The city parks and recreation department has begun surveying the park to determine exactly which area is still under the school district’s ownership. The school district and city will decide what to do with the land — whether to donate it or find use for it — at a later date.

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