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County schools OK $25.5M budget

The Lincoln County Board of Education Thursday approved a $25.5million fiscal year 2009 district budget that sees an almosthalf-million dollar increase in Mississippi Adequate EducationProgram funding, an amount that brought rejoicing from districtofficials.

“For us, that’s a pretty good increase,” said District BusinessManager Cheryl Shelby. “That’s a bigger increase than we saw lastyear, and MAEP is the biggest part of our budget.”

For the coming school year, the district’s MAEP allocation willbe $14,003,525 – roughly $430,0000 more than last year’s$13,572,568.

Shelby said the increase was partly caused by 49 new students inthe district, which resulted in $223,806 extra in average dailyattendance funds based on the state-estimated base student cost ofapproximately $4,500 per child.

Shelby said less significant MAEP increases can be lost instate-mandated costs. But such costs were low this year, allowingthe district to take more advantage of its increasedallocation.

“You have to temper that,” she said. “Sometimes increasedinsurance costs and teacher pay raises can take away thatallocation. This year, there was only a minimal increase inemployer health insurance premiums and the only teacher pay raisemandated by the state was for teachers with 25 years or more ofexperience. As a result, we have more discretionary dollarsavailable.”

Shelby said MAEP funding is critical to the state’s schooldistricts.

MAEP money constitutes 76 percent of the Lincoln County SchoolDistrict budget alone, with only 17 percent gathered from advalorum taxes. Waiting for those funds to appropriated is verychallenging for a district, she said.

“That’s why in those years when the Legislature adopts theeducation budget in January it makes budgeting easier,” Shelbysaid. “When they don’t approve it until April, it leaves a shortamount of time to get a district budget ready – and we have todevelop contingencies.”

Shelby said the district’s extra MAEP funds are crucial forkeeping pace with changing prices, like fuel. Armed with the extrafunding, the district has prepared a $500,000 fuel budget to keepits bus fleet running as fuel prices climb.

Superintendent Terry Brister said the Legislature’s full fundingof MAEP this year was a blessing, as the district has operated withdecreased funds from the program before at the cost of cutting someprograms.

“MAEP is vital… it’s vital,” Brister insisted. “Without it, wewould have to cut our district down to the basics – we wouldn’t beable to purchase any new technology or equipment. We would have todelay it. MAEP makes those things possible.”

Brister said this year has shaped up to be a good budget year,but such good fortune is not normal.

“We may look up next year and there not be an increase,” hesaid. “It may be a decrease. When we’re waiting for the educationbudget to be brought out, we’re waiting to see what we’re going toable to do in our schools. We really can’t plan until theLegislature gets through with it.”

Brister said waiting through a legislative session to see whatthe state’s education budget is going to be is “the worst thing inthe world.”

“We educators are so elated when they fully fund MAEP,” he said.”Legislators – fully fund it, please. Our teachers are workinghard, so hard.”