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Schools’ hiring deadline pushed to July 1

The state legislative morass on setting an education budgetprompted the Lincoln County School Board Monday to delay a hiringdeadline for some district personnel.

A district policy states that May 1 is the deadline fornotifying non-certified personnel of the hiring intent for the nextyear. However, the policy was changed Monday to postpone thatdeadline to July 1.

“It’s situations like this where we get caught,” saidSuperintendent Terry Brister. “We were hoping the budget would beresolved before we got to non-certified personnel to make thesedecisions.”

About 20 teachers, who are certified, have already been informedthey may not be rehired unless the legislature provides morefunding than what is projected in the Legislative BudgetRecommendation (LBR). The deadline for notifying teachers was April15.

The LBR would cut $161 million from public education and hasstrong Senate support. The House, however, passed a bill to fullyfund education that was defeated in the Senate.

A conference committee of representatives from the Senate andHouse are enmeshed in negotiations to forge a compromise bill. Thecommittee must pass a bill by Tuesday, vote to extend the sessionor go home without a budget, which would force the governor to calla special session.

“We’re just operating with what we’ve got,” Brister said. “We’renot making any commitments. We can’t do anything until they do inJackson.”

A visibly upset Brister told the board he was ashamed to visitthe schools because teachers would ask about their jobs and he hadno answers for them.

“At this point, how many of them can I tell they have a job? Howmany can I tell they don’t have jobs? I don’t know. That’s all Ican tell them – I don’t know. It adds up to a lot of sleeplessnights,” he said. “It’s a helpless feeling.”

The superintendent questioned the need for state-mandatedteacher pay raises while the state was cutting districts sodrastically they cannot even keep teachers on staff.

“I’m sure teachers would consider not taking a raise if it meantthey could keep their jobs,” Brister said.

Governor Haley Barbour and the Senate held firm Tuesday that thedistrict could use about $350 million in “rainy day funds” to shoreup their budgets.

The funds, approximately 3 percent of a district’s total budget,are carried over each year for emergencies and to fund certainprojects, such as classroom construction.

Brister said that doing so would not be prudent because it woulddrain any emergency funds the school had. Lincoln County’s fundwould also not meet its needs, he said.

The projected LBR cut would leave Lincoln County schools about$1 million under budget, Brister said, and their emergency fundsare not that high.

A discussion of options led to raising taxes to cover thedeficit, but board members were adamant in their desire not to doso.

“We’re at the point we have to consider every option we have,”said District One Board Member Kay Coon.

Should the legislature pass the LBR as law, the district couldnot even raise taxes high enough to cover the loss, said financialofficer Cheryl Shelby.

A district’s maximum local funding level is 55 mills. LincolnCounty presently taxes at a 44-mill rate, leaving 11 millsavailable for increased taxing.

At a value of approximately $60,000 per mill, a maximum raise of11 mills would only generate $660,000, just over half the proposeddeficit.

“We don’t have the fat they say we do to trim,” Brister said.”We’ve tried to be good stewards of the county’s money, and thatincludes not taking more than we need and spending it wisely. We’vedone that.”

Brister also sympathized with the teachers, who are conductingcrucial No Child Left Behind testing this week.

The tests are used by both the state and federal Department ofEducations to evaluate and grade those involved in the educationprocess from administrators to students. Failure in the tests toshow proper gains or to meet mandated requirements could affectstate and federal funding to the district.

“I’m sure they’ll do a great job, but I’m also sure they’reworried,” Brister said. “It’s got to be a mental struggle toconcentrate on administering those tests while worrying aboutwhether or not you have a job next year.”

The board also met in executive session early in the meeting forapproximately 20 minutes to discuss personnel. There was no actiontaken, Brister said.