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Session call omitting budget frustrates schools

As state lawmakers prepare to return to Jackson for a specialsession Wednesday, Lincoln County school leaders say they are stillin the dark about education funding possibilities.

Gov. Haley Barbour called lawmakers back for the special sessionafter they failed in the regular session to approve a budget forthe new year that starts July 1. However, the new year budget isnot among the six items listed in the call.

“There’s nothing in there (about) education,” Lincoln CountySuperintendent Terry Brister told trustees during Monday night’smeeting.

In setting a special session, the governor determines theagenda. Resolving funding in the current year budget is listed inthe call, which could be expanded to consider other budget issuesas the session goes on.

Brister was unsure when education issues could be addressedduring the session.

“I don’t know when our day will be,” Brister said.

Brister said educators across the state do not know what’s goingto happen. He urged board members to bear with administrators asthey go through uncertain times.

“It’s hard to go into schools and talk to parents. It’s hard toanswer questions because there are so many what-ifs,” Bristersaid.

In other activity Monday, Business Manager Cheryl Shelby saidthe district received a good audit report for the 2003-04 year.Shelby said there were no findings regarding oversight of federalprograms or internal control procedures.

“We’re proud of that,” Shelby said.

However, Shelby said the auditor did find a problem regarding16th Section land and lease payments. She said there were”numerous” leases that were more than 30 days past due.

“We had some that were several years behind,” Shelby said.

State law requires school board action, which could includeextending the time for lease payment or lease termination, when alease is 30 days past due. The audit report said there were 21leases that were 60 days or more late on June 30, 2004.

Shelby cited an extended personnel around the end of last yearas one factor in the lapse. Also, she said school officials havebeen working on developing procedures to ensure leases aretimely.

An overall number of school leases and how much money isinvolved were not available Monday night. Brister said revenueamounts vary by the type of lease, whether residential, hunting orothers.

“There’s all types of variations in it,” Brister said.

Stan Long, in charge of the leases, said officials had knownabout the situation since October. He said issues had beencorrected.

“All those have been paid, and we’re current with everybodyelse,” Long said.