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Schools nervously await state funding

Educators believe the next few months will be grueling for thoseworking in that field, and the next year could be even worse iflegislators are unable to find enough funding for the 2004-2005school year.

“It’s very bleak right now. I don’t know what the legislatorsare going to do,” said Dr. Sam Bounds, superintendent of theBrookhaven School District.

The Brookhaven School District is looking at the possibility ofa projected budget for the 2004-2005 school year that is about onemillion dollars less than funds received this year.

In the Lincoln County School District, Superintendent TerryBrister said he is concerned, “but I have hope, and I believe inour senators and representatives up there, and I think they’ll comethrough for us.”

The Lincoln County School District is looking at a similar lossin funding.

“It’s not a good situation from what we’re hearing, but I havefaith,” Brister said.

Under the recommendations by the Joint Legislative BudgetCommittee and Gov. Haley Barbour, the combined budget for allMississippi public schools would fall $161 million short for thefiscal year that starts July 1.

In a tough economic year, legislators say they’re looking forways to find more money for public school operations and formandatory teacher pay raises.

“I think we have some friends in the House working with us,”said Bounds, mentioning, Reps. Mike Chaney, Randy “Bubba” Pierceand Billy McCoy.

Bounds hopes local legislators will also be committed to makingsure the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) and teacherpay raises are fully funded.

“I think public education will be knocked back 10 to 12 years inthe worst case scenario,” said Bounds of the possible cuts.

If cuts go through as projected now, Bounds expects the effectswill be detrimental in the Brookhaven School District as well.

“With 78 percent of our budget going to salaries, the only wayto survive would be to eliminate positions and eliminate programs,”he said. “When you eliminate staff, you either have to increaseclass size or cut programs.”

Brister said cutting personnel would be a “last ditcheffort.”

“We’ll just have to look at all the avenues and cut where wehave to,” he said. “Hopefully, it won’t get to personnel.”

Studies have shown that large class sizes lead to morediscipline problems and less success in academics for students.

Another possibility to offset the potential budget cuts would beto raise taxes, something that has not been ruled out in theBrookhaven School District.

“Anything is on the table right now,” said Bounds. “That is apossibility, depending on how deep the cuts go.”

Bounds plans to come up with several scenarios to present toschool board members at their next meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m.,Feb. 24, in the central office.

Money-saving efforts made in the county district earlier thisyear with the reorganization of the alternative school will help tosome degree, Brister said, “but it sure won’t offset cuts like thisby any means.”

The district is trying to come up with possible solutions shouldthe cuts pass in the legislature, Brister said, and in themeantime, they’re anxiously waiting for the decision.

“We’re putting everything on hold until something comes out ofthe legislature up there,” he said. “There’s just not much else wecan do at this point.”