Schools able to absorb funding hit

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Lincoln County School District has absorbed recent cuts toeducation funding and stands ready to take another state fundinghit next year if necessary, district officials said Monday.

District Business Manager Cheryl Shelby said January’s 3.49percent cut to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program dockedthe district by $445,000. However, by transferring surplus fundswithin the budget she has trimmed that figure to approximately$250,000, an amount well covered by the district’s projected $2.2million fund balance.

Shelby unveiled the district’s revised budget during Mondaynight’s board meeting.

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Shelby said the cut was absorbed easily because conservativebudgeting left the district with revenue exceeding expenditures byabout $1.9 million. She said she allocated expected MAEP funds andMAEP additions loosely, and her budget figures were actually lessthan the state appropriation.

The district has only spent about 40 percent of its $500,000fuel budget, Shelby said, allowing her to transfer funds out of theaccount to cover MAEP cuts. She and school and governmentbudget-makers statewide pumped up fuel accounts last summer whengas and diesel prices hovered just under $4 per gallon.

“Because I was conservative in my estimates of revenue of add-onprograms, the actual dollar is more,” Shelby said. “That will inturn reduce the MAEP cut. I only cut the revenue – I didn’t reallycut any expenditures.”

Shelby said the district would finish fiscal year 2009, whichends June 30, without having to cut jobs or programs – anundesirable option facing some of the state’s 152 schooldistricts.

School officials said trimming budgets mid-year is extremelydifficult, with money spoken for, teachers under contract and fewoptions for cutting. Some districts are being forced to dip heavilyinto their fund balances to cover lost MAEP funds, and at leasteight districts are projected to finish the year with no money.

But Lincoln County schools will start the 2009-10 school yearwith more than $2 million in the bank and in good position to faceextended education cuts, which the governor said may be apossibility.

“We would rather find something to cut (than increase taxes),”Shelby said. “If we have to increase something, we look for ways tooffset the costs. We don’t ever spend our whole budget. We’ve beengood stewards of taxpayers’ money.”

District Superintendent Terry Brister said much time was spenton rearranging the budget to keep school programs intact.

“I haven’t got much to say except, again, we’re OK,” he said.”We could always use some more, but we’re OK.”