Schools await legislative action on funding bill

Published 5:00 am Friday, April 30, 2004

With a a Saturday deadline for lawmakers to submit a compromisebill to fund education, local educators here say they have noindication of how, or if, their funds will be cut.

Lincoln County School District Superintendent Terry Brister saidthe public knows as much as he does about the situation.

“I don’t know what they’re considering. I haven’t heard anythingsince the (April 15) hiring deadline,” he said.

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Brookhaven School District Superintendent Dr. Sam Bounds wasunavailable for comment.

Nearly 50 teachers were not rehired in Lincoln and Lawrencecounties two weeks ago when school districts faced a state-mandateddeadline of notifying teachers if they would keep their jobs.

Lincoln County School District notified “about 20” certifiedpersonnel. Brookhaven School District notified 17 and in LawrenceCounty School District 10 teachers received their pink slips.

School officials analyzed all areas of school operations beforedetermining they needed to cut teachers, they said. Janitorial andmaintenance departments, bus barns and teachers assistants were allconsidered prior to cutting certified personnel.

More than 2,000 certified teachers were not rehiredstatewide.

By April 15, school districts had to notify teachers that theywould not be rehired. Otherwise, teachers would automaticallyreceive a contract for the next year.

Administrators had to take a “hard line” look at the budget andplan for the worst-case scenario, Brister said. After a budget isfinally approved, he hopes to at least be able to hire back theteachers he gave notices to in April.

A Senate plan approved by Governor Haley Barbour seeks to followLegislative Budget Review (LBR) recommendations and cut $161million from the state education budget. Lincoln County and theBrookhaven School District would each lose approximately $1 milliondollars under that plan.

A House plan fully funding education by increasing some fees andnot filling some vacant Education Department positions was rejectedby the Senate in March.

Some legislators have accused educators of using “scare tactics”against them to encourage supporting the House plan or another planthat would fully fund education.

“This is no game or scare tactic,” Brister said. “It is reallyserious. I hope they really understand the severity of thesituation. It is vital that we try to hold on to all the teachersthat we can to survive. We need it.”

Representatives from the House and Senate have been meeting inconference committee to draft an education bill that could meetapproval in both chambers.

Local districts do not have any room to make the kind of severecuts proposed in the LBR, Brister said.

“I’m sure there probably are some districts that can take cutsand restructure to survive, even if they would be negativelyaffected by the loss of teachers,” Brister said. “But we’re not oneof them. We’re very careful with our money, and we just don’t havethe excess to trim to come up with that kind of money.”

Dozens of parents and educators were at the Capitol Thursday.They delivered more than 9,000 copies of signed petitions, urginglawmakers to adopt a House plan that would maintain current fundinglevels for K-12 education.

The principal commended local legislators for their educationefforts and encouraged them to keep fighting.

“I believe our local representatives will,” he said. “They havestood firmly behind us through this. I believe they will continueto fight for us.”

Legislators at the Capitol said they would work through theweekend if necessary to hammer out an education bill