Thursday, June 24, 2010
City schools tighten budget
By SUE WATSON
With tax revenues down across the nation during this economic recession of two years running, governments and organizations are looking for ways to make a budget work without requests for new money.
The Holly Springs School District joined the crowd last week by announcing it hopes not to have to ask for an increase in school ad valorem tax in the upcoming fiscal year 2010-2011 budget. If the city school district does not request a budget increase this year, it will join the Marshall County School District in showing an intention to help the taxpayer by taking belt-tightening measures.
Irene Walton, city superintendent of education, provided an overview of a budget outlook for the school system.
“We were ready to ask for a millage increase, but we understand tough economic times,” she said.
Some ways the district is trying to hold the budget level is by not asking for salary increases for administrators, and by reducing positions and therefore payroll and overhead.
Thirteen teaching positions have not been filled in the last two years and at least six classified positions are either being cut or not filled when vacated, Walton said.
“We are really watching everything on our end and letting you know the challenges we experience,” she said.
The new budget is being planned with current levels of funding remaining, as is expected from state government.
The district is working with a beginning fund balance as of July 1 of $2.278 million, but projects an ending balance June 30, 2011, of $1.4 million.
Walton said it has taken years for the district to save up $2 million out of ad valorem tax revenues as a carry-over to begin the new school year but the district continues to have to dip into that fund. It is in danger of being depleted.
Two years of budget cuts from the Mississippi Department of Education has resulted in a loss of $871,000 or about an 11 percent cut over two years. The district is struggling to meet its obligations without asking taxpayers in dip deeper into their pockets.
The state of Mississippi requires the school district to hold 7 percent of its budget in a Rainy Day Fund, Walton said. The just over $2.2 million is adequate now to cover the rainy day but the district must not let those funds dwindle.
“That little $2 million won’t last long before we really start going into the hole,” she said. “So at the end of the 2011 school year the estimated fund balance will be $1.4 million. We cannot dip into it each year.”
Breaking out the details of where the money comes from and where it goes, Walton said the school district lost $416,000 in revenue in 2010 through a reduction of $360,000 from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program fund and a decrease in $124,718 in ad valorem tax collections. So the largest portion of loss in funding the last two years is the 11 percent loss from state sources of funding.
Walton said the school is not filling one teacher’s assistant position vacated by a retiring employee. The student/teacher ratio still looks good, she said, and the district hopes not to have to create larger size classes for their teachers.
“We are hoping we won’t have to do that,” she said. “That’s our foundation to get our (test) scores up,” she said.
Beverly Thompson, business manager for the district, said there are not a lot of extra positions that can be cut. The school has used teacher’s aides or assistants in grades K-2, she said.
Alderman Calvin James asked whether the district would be risking overloads in the classroom if positions continue to not be filled.
“Not yet,” Walton said. “We still do not have overcrowding. The junior high class size is smaller and none of our classes are overcrowded or real full. We are trying not to ask for any new ad valorem taxes.”
Walton said the district faces some of the greatest economic challenges it has ever faced.
“It is presently not the district’s plan to ask for a tax increase for the upcoming school year,” she said. “However, this is tentative based on the information we have. If additional cuts are made or assessed values do not meet our expectations, the district may have to ask for an increase in ad valorem millage.”
All school board members were present at the meeting of the superintendent with the Holly Springs Board of Aldermen, demonstrating full support of the superintendent’s budget report. These included Ray Von Autry, Fergenia Hood, Margaret Delashmit, Michael Crittle and Paul Lampley.
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