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Funding levels fall short of requests, but ‘we’ll be fine,’ district official says

Area school administrators say although state legislators didnot fully fund education, they feel comfortable with the amount offunding passed down.

This year’s state funding level is $13.2 million above thefiscal year 2005 allocation and $87.7 million below what the stateMississippi Department of Education had requested. The fiscal 2006funding level will cover a $94.5 million state-mandated teachersalary increase and $13.2 million for insurance, leaving districtswith approximately $24.6 million more than needed to meet statemandates, according to the Department of Education.

“While the approved budget does not fully fund the MississippiAdequate Education Program formula, it does cover the much-neededfinal year of the five-year teacher salary increase plan,” said Dr.Henry L. Johnson, state superintendent of education.

Local school administrators said they could work within thefunding passed down from a cash-strapped state Legislature.

“Overall, we didn’t get what we needed, but we’ll be fine,” saidTerry Brister, superintendent of the Lincoln County SchoolDistrict. “I’m elated we have a budget.”

Brister said he was unable to provide any numbers but could sayhe expected that no one in the district would be losing a jobbecause of funding. He added that no programs would be eliminated,but he was unsure where funding cuts would be made.

“Now I can at least answer questions by the public and employeesbecause we do have a budget. It could have been more detrimental,”he said.

Brookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett said herdistrict received $966,783 more in funding for next year than thecurrent year, which was approximately $511,000 below the fullfunding level.

However, Barrett said she was pleased with the decision oflegislators to provide more funding to education than previouslydiscussed.

“That is considerably improved over the initial projections andeven the last figures I had,” she said.

Barrett said the funding level will enable the district to keepall of this year’s employees. In addition, she is considering whichof several positions that were frozen because of budget concernscan be reopened. The positions were frozen when employees retiredor left the district.

While public school district officials began meeting Wednesdaymorning to crunch the numbers and determine a budget, VickiBodenhamer, director of the Mississippi School of the Arts, saidshe was still waiting for official word from the Department ofEducation on her budget figures.

“School districts are a priority and we are figured separatelybecause we are directly under the Department of Education,” shesaid. “I know we’ll be open and that’s the important thing.”

MSA has reportedly received a budget of $2.2 million for 2006,$400,000 more than this year’s $1.8 million budget.

In the last month of fiscal 2005, MSA has remained within itsbudget and has not touched $170,000 held in reserve that wasoffered by the school’s foundation during last year’s budgetscares, Bodenhamer said.