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Expenses force schools to seek additional funds

A raise in property insurance premiums and mandated teacher payraises prompted Lincoln County School Board members to request atax increase from the county this year, according to schoolofficials.

“The state legislature underfunded the Mississippi AdequateEducation Program last year, and we are receiving additional cutsin our funding for the present year,” said Superintendent PerryMiller.

“In addition to our state revenue being cut drastically,expenses continue to rise. Our property insurance has risenapproximately 20 percent. State-mandated raises for teachers,although well-deserved, have placed another burden on revenue,” hecontinued.

Other items also are hitting the district.

“The rising costs of unfunded state and federal mandates, suchas state testing, implementation of the Mississippi StudentInformation System, local contributions to special education, andother mandates, require additional revenue. Because of the cuts instate funding and additional incurred expenses, we have no choiceother than look to our local citizens to make up a portion of thedifference,” Miller said.

The county school district is requesting a 3.81-mill increasefrom the county for this school year. That would raise the tax levyrate to 46.19 mills, according to a budget summary expected to beapproved by supervisors later this month.

Millage rates are used in conjunction with property values todetermine the amount of taxes people pay on items such land, homesand motor vehicle license plates. Effects of the increase willdepend on property values and any possible changes to thosetotals.

County schools are not alone in seeking a millage increase.

Brookhaven Public Schools have been approved for a 4.27-millincrease to 58.14 mills.

The total levy is targeted to fund $6.45 million in localproperty tax assistance next year. That is up from the $5.85million this year and includes funds for district maintenance,vocation programs, a funding shortfall note and otherfunctions.

In the last three years, “for whatever reason, the amount we’verequested to operate the school district has fallen short,” saidSuperintendent Dr. Sam Bounds, referring to a need for shortfallnotes.

Bounds said city school officials appreciate the support andcooperation of the mayor, board of aldermen and the community as awhole.

School districts each year may ask for a 4 percent increase inlocal support funding, plus additional revenue from other areassuch as new property. Bounds said the city school district strivesto live within the means of the standard 4 percent increase.

“We try to be good stewards of the people’s money,” Bounds said.”We’re not wasteful or extravagant.”

Miller said the county school district will still besubstantially behind the number of mills districts its size acrossthe state have to work with, and the district continues to providequality education with less money than other districts itssize.

“We make the best of what we got even though it’s comparablyless than other districts,” Miller said.

Despite what many districts would consider a low millage rate,Miller said the education in the district still ranks above thestate average according to the Mississippi Report Card, which isreleased annually.

“According to the latest Mississippi Report Card, the LincolnCounty Schools have $489 less per student to spend on educating ourchildren than the average school district in Mississippi,” Millersaid.

Despite that “on the Mississippi Curriculum test, given to thethird through eighth graders last spring, Lincoln County studentsscored well above the state average. Students also performed abovethe state average on the subject area test for high schoolstudents. Our students were in the top 20 percent in Algebra I andBiology I, the top 40 percent in U.S. History and the top 30percent in English II. Those results speak for themselves,” hesaid.

The superintendent also said he likes to point out that much ofthe increase will be returned to the county economically.

“We’ve asked for an increase, but I would like to remind thepublic that we collect $2.5 million in taxes and return to theeconomy of Lincoln County more than $8 million. Now, I think that’sa pretty good investment,” he said.

The tax increase should not affect the district’s bond issue,Miller said. The district is seeking $3.8 million in bonds in anelection Sept. 17 to construct a classroom building on each of thedistrict’s school campuses. The bond is expected to address currentneeds and prepare district campuses for the increase in students inthe next 5-10 years.

“If this increase and the bond issue both pass, we will still besomewhere between 50-52 mills,” he said. “The cap is 55 mills andseveral districts are above that 55-mill cap. Our millage rate willstill be far below many of the school districts inMississippi.”

Editor’s note: News Editor Matthew Coleman contributed tothis report.