Thursday, August 20, 2009
Randolph defends budget request
By SUE WATSON
Marshall County School District Superintendent Don Randolph tried to set the record straight about increases in the fiscal year 2009-10 budget before the board of supervisors.
In prefacing remarks, he thanked supervisors for what they have done to support the school district and help make the schools successful. He also invited them to visit the schools.
He said he was alarmed about the statements supervisors made recently at a board meeting that were published in the newspaper. He said he wanted to share with them and the public how the schools operate.
Most school districts in the state are already capped out at 55 mills, the maximum allowable by law, he said. By contrast, the county school district mill rate with the 4.5 mills added this year comes to 36.58 with 19.75 percent ($5,034,228) of the $25,501,712 proposed budget coming from local ad valorem taxes.
Randolph said a budget shortfall in state department of education appropriations this year had to be made up with local taxes. He added that Gov. Haley Barbour has indicated to school districts by letter that a 5 percent cutback in appropriations to schools may take place by December this year.
“Each year the state is appropriating less and less,” Randolph said. “We will have to locally support the school to have what we want.”
Randolph went into office six years ago. He said the mill rate for the school district was 28.8 in 1999, and 42.24 in 2000.
“Millage has gone down, not up,” he said. “We’ve been making it with less millage and less money. We don’t do anything that is not mandated by the state.”
The superintendent said the school district has lost $1 million in funding, with about $400,000 cut from state funds during the first cut back; and when all add-on programs were cut, it resulted in a total cut of $700,761 last year.
Randolph said the loss of $1 million meant that some proposed summer maintenance of school facilities and improvements, and the purchase of some equipment like air conditioners, were not done this summer.
The school district cut back on air conditioning and changed bus stops to make corrections in the budget, he said.
There has been a cut of $134,655 from the maintenance fund and a shortfall in debt service (interest) of $79,041 locally from local revenues, he said.
The school district did not get $213,000 from the tax collector’s office. Adding that local revenue shortfall to the $700,000 not received from the state meant that the district is shorted by about $1 million, he said. Randolph will issue a shortfall note of $213,000 to the board of supervisors, he said. The three-year loan will cost the taxpayers about $76,000 a year.
Randolph said he does not know how the school district will make it if the governor cuts state funding by 5 percent.
“You have got to have more money to operate; if the state doesn’t give it to you, you have to do it locally,” he said.
Randolph said there is no mystery in how the budget works and what the needs are whether the board be the supervisors, the school board or the community college board.
The requested mill rate increase of 4 percent will generate about $166,000 for the school district, he said.
“It will pay three months gas and utility bills that I’ve lost,” he said. “We probably should have asked for 7 mills.”
Most of the budget goes toward salaries with the district consuming $1.5 million in salaries a month or about $15 million a year. He said federal dollars go only for federally mandated programs that purchase materials and pay special education teachers and to help pay for staff development.
Randolph said some $3 million in federal dollars can be borrowed interest-free under the safe and orderly schools program. The money will go to add classrooms at Mary Reid (a gym and four classrooms), H.W. Byers (four classrooms) and Byhalia (six classrooms in the elementary and middle school and four new classrooms at the high school). The interest-free loan will save about $1.5 million in cost of construction through various types of credits or tax breaks to lenders, construction companies and the like. Randolph said the new classrooms prepares the school district for future growth.
Randolph encouraged everyone to become informed about the budget and how the school district is funded and added that about 21 school systems in the state are running in the red and capped out in the ad valorem mill rate.
Supervisor Willie Flemon thanked Randolph for appearing before the board, saying the public needs to understand how the mill rates are set.
“It may be this will help us to explain it to them when they read it in the paper,” he said.
Randolph said the school district does not get many calls from the public.
“But I assure you we have people (auditors) looking over our shoulders,” he said.
Supervisors had complained about receiving calls about the increase in the school district’s mill rate several weeks ago when the proposed budget was run in the newspaper.
Randolph provided a summary after the meeting via interview.
“The Marshall County Board of Supervisors is one reason our schools are in the (good) condition they are in,” he said. “We want them to continue to be our teammate in producing the best school system that can be provided. I hope meeting with them will help them to answer questions from citizens concerning the increases to support our schools.”
Randolph said teachers have received small increments in salaries but the staff have had no salary increases in three years.
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