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Schools request more to cover higher labor costs

Despite receiving more funding from the state, Brookhaven SchoolDistrict officials said Tuesday that mandated increases in severalareas will necessitate a need to request more money from propertytaxes to cover next year’s $26.7 million budget.

School officials discussed new year budget plans Tuesday duringa public hearing at the district’s central office. The budget forthe new year that starts July 1 represents a $1.2 million increaseover the current year’s $25.5 million spending plan.

Superintendent Lea Barrett said the district is scheduled toreceive about $722,000 more from the state through the MississippiAdequate Education Program. However, $683,000 of that amount isobligated for teacher and counselor pay raises, insurance and otherstate-mandated increases.

“The bulk of the money we’re getting from MAEP already has aplace to go,” Barrett said.

Other areas of increased spending include $300,000 to assistat-risk students, an estimated $137,000 to cover labor costsrelated to the federal increase in the minimum wage plus threeadditional teachers at the high school and one for the alternativeprogram.

“We think this will improve the learning environment at Lipseyand is a good step to take,” Barrett said of the additionalalternative school instructor.

As a result of the added expenses, school officials will look toa 4 percent increase in local tax dollars that districts areallowed to request each year.

“Although we don’t like tax increases, there’s no way avoidasking for the 4 percent ad valorem increase this year,” Barrettsaid.

What impact that will have on the property tax levy was notknown Tuesday.

Business Manager Susan Quin said estimates indicated a less thanone-mill increase on the levy, but that would depend on propertyvalues. The dollar amount of the property tax increase totals about$178,000.

“We don’t know what a mill is worth until we get the valuation,”Quin said.

Taxing authorities, in this case the city board of aldermen, arerequired to set the tax levy sufficient to raise the amountrequested by the school district. Aldermen are expected to set thetax levy later this year before the city’s fiscal year starts Oct.1.

In discussing the increase, Barrett pointed out that city schooldistrict is one of the community’s largest employers. She addedthat 73 percent of the budget is devoted to salaries.

“You quickly see it’s an investment in the community,” saidBarrett, alluding to dollars that stay in the community after beingspent by teachers and other district staff members.

Among revenue areas, just over $9 million is expected to comefrom local sources. That represents an increase of about $205,000over the current year.

Other revenue sources include $14.1 million from the state and$3.2 million from the federal government.

School Board President Karen Braden labeled the various mandatedincreases as “frustrating.” She said the district was not spendingmoney, but rather trying to cover the costs of the requiredincreases.

Braden echoed Barrett regarding the benefits of teacher-relatedspending that can also benefit the local economy.

“If there’s a good reason out there, this is it,” said Bradenwhile also mentioning the required increases. “So much of these arethings we have no control over.”