City schools pitch $24M-plus budget

Published 5:00 am Friday, June 17, 2005

Brookhaven School District officials pitched a $24.49 millionnew year budget while a handful of residents criticized ananticipated tax increase to help cover the spending plan Thursdayduring a public hearing.

“We have looked at the numbers and feel fairly comfortable withthem,” said Carl Aycock, vice chairman of the district’s board oftrustees.

With education funding uncertainty at the state level, Aycocksaid it was difficult to come up with any hard budget numbers untila few weeks ago. He said officials developed several scenariosbased on what funds could be received.

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Following approval of a state budget, Superintendent Lea Barrettsaid the district learned May 31 that the district would receiveabout $966,000 more in state funding next year than this year.

State revenue sources make up $12.06 million, or 49 percent, ofthe school district budget. Local sources amount to $9.24 million,or 37.7 percent, with federal and other sources making up theremaining $3.1 million, or 13 percent.

“We’re going to be responsible with that money and work to seethat that money is put to good use,” Aycock said.

The new year budget represents a $1.57 million increase overthis year’s budget, Barrett said.

According to the district’s public hearing notice, $6.13 millionfor operations is expected to be needed from the local property taxlevy.

To meet the local funding request, school officials anticipate a1.4-mill increase in the tax levy from 46.36 mills to 47.72 mills.One mill amounts to $1 on every $1,000 of assessed property value,meaning the owner of a $100,000 home would be paying about $14 morenext year.

The tax levy increase could vary based on final property values,school officials said. Under state law, the Board of Aldermen laterthis year must set a tax levy sufficient to meet the schooldistrict’s funding request.

The anticipated increase drew several comments from audiencemembers. They pointed out that school tax have continued to go upwhile many taxpayers’ incomes have not.

“Every year they have steadily gone up,” East Lincoln residentDon McGuffie said about the school taxes.

McGuffie said rising taxes stifles economic development. Helabeled as “socialism” the school district’s ability to raise taxeswithout letting the people have a voice in the matter.

“I’m not against education,” said McGuffie, calling for a bettersystem of taxation based on consumption rather than land ownership.”We can’t continue to pay property tax like it is.”

Brookhaven resident Johnny Perkins said more money does notequal better education. Citing the Lincoln County School District’sdecision to not raise taxes in recent years, Perkins called forbetter management among city school leadership.

“It makes you wonder if the money is being efficiently used inthis district,” Perkins said.

Perkins said it appeared the city district was setting income tomeet expenses rather than the other way around. He said thatviolates good business practices.

Perkins also pointed out $1.9 million allocated foradministrative costs, including 23 administrative positions. Hesuggested school leaders see what parts of those costs could bereduced before taxes are raised.

“As a taxpayer, I don’t see any end to it,” Perkins said abouttaxes, adding that the district seemed to have a “blank check” totax the city.

Pointing out that one deputy superintendent position has notbeen filled, Barrett said district leaders are making efforts toreduce administrative costs so that student level activities canbenefit. The superintendent said one of her goals has been toreduce administrative costs.

Brookhaven resident Jimmy Moreton said school leadership is amatter of philosophy and getting the most for every dollar spent.He said higher taxes from year to year have a cumulative effect oncitizens, many of whom live on fixed incomes.

“We need a philosophy that we want to get the most bang for thebuck,” Moreton said. “It doesn’t start with just spendingmoney.”

Aycock said the school board and administration have strived tohave the best programs available for district children. He saidsome districts may spend less money, but they also do not have theprograms that are available in the Brookhaven School District.

“We’re trying our best to make sure students have broadopportunities in education,” Aycock said. “I think we’re achievingthat.”

The new year school budget is expected to be approved at theschool board’s June 28 meeting.

Regarding funding, Barrett pointed out that even with the$966,000 increase, the district is still $512,00 below full fundingunder the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula. Also, thedistrict will receive $57,000 less in federal funding due to achange in the census.

Aycock alluded to required a 8 percent increase in teachersalaries next year under the final year of a five-year legislativeplan.

“We have pretty much been strapped with certain increases wedidn’t have a lot of choices in,” Aycock said.

The purpose was to raise state teachers to the southeasternaverage. Aycock said that, though, is a moving target andMississippi will likely still be a little behind.

“We certainly want to continue to look at that,” Aycocksaid.

Based on earlier funding projections, Barrett said the schooldistrict was looking at receiving only $310,000 more next year fromthe state. With mandated salary, insurance and other increases, shesaid the district was looking at higher expenses totaling $1.2million.

In adjusting the budget, Barrett said seven teacher assistantpositions will not be filled next year and three teaching positionsat the alternative school will be replaced with distance learningequipment.

Barrett said the higher state funding level and budget actionswill allow the district to keep Physical Education at BrookhavenElementary School, a Music program at Lipsey Middle School and anArt program at Alexander High School. Also, a school year driver’seducation program at Brookhaven High School will be broughtback.

“That’s something parents in our school district have been veryinterested in and wanted,” Barrett said of driver’s education.

School officials also plant to pursue an estimated $340,000 roofand window repair project at Brookhaven Elementary School.

Barrett said the administration wants to be fiscally responsibleto the board of trustees, students and taxpayers. She said, though,that the district did not want to take a step back in the servicesand opportunities it offers to students.

“We’ve worked too hard to get where we are,” Barrett said.