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Tight budget gives schools more questions than answers

Brookhaven School District officials faced a bleak pictureTuesday as they looked at next year’s budget.

During their monthly meeting, school board members were briefedon the status of the budget proposal by the MississippiLegislature, which leaves the district facing more than a halfmillion dollars in cuts.

“I wish I could give you a more optimistic picture, but I amobliged to give you an accurate picture,” Brookhaven SchoolDistrict Superintendent Lea Barrett told the board.

While the legislators’ budget gives the district $310,000 morethan received for the 2004-05 school year, it will not cover themandated teacher pay raise, Barrett said.

“Our own figures project that for each of our 217 teachers toreceive the mandated eight percent pay raise, the additional costwill be about $721,000,” she said. “I’m not sure we can tell ourteachers that a commitment was made, but we can’t live up tothat.”

Barrett continued, reminding board members that the districtwill also need an additional $51,000 to pay the district’s 53teacher assistants their eight percent pay raises.

Even with the extra $310,000 in the legislative recommendation,the state mandated pay raises will leave the district about$463,000 short.

“(That’s) before we consider inflation for utilities, paper,textbooks, equipment, fuel for buses, insurance and all other itemsnecessary to conduct school,” said Barrett.

Cutting positions would be a solution to the shortfall, but thedistrict has few places to cut since the Mississippi AdequateEducation Program was not fully funded.

The district had to eliminate 12 paraprofessionals, seventeachers, one administrator and two maintenance positions lastyear.

According to Barrett, MAEP was implemented in 1997 to allowschool districts to provide basic programs for children. The onlyyear it was fully funded was the 2003-2004 school year.

MAEP funds are vital to the survival of schools, Barrettexplained.

“When this school district loses personnel and programs, ithurts this community both in quality of life and in actual dollarsspent in local businesses,” she said.

Barrett said the bottom line is that the district will have toabsorb at least $463,000 next year with few options available to doso.

“I am not certain that as good as this board is, even they couldfigure out a way to operate this year (2005-2006),” she said.

Board members had no suggestions but hoped local residents wouldsupport full funding of MAEP.

“They need to talk with their legislators,” said board chairmanPrentiss Smith.

The school board’s next meeting will be held Feb. 15. It wasoriginally scheduled for Feb. 22 but was changed because nextyear’s administrators must be recommended by Feb. 15.