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Schools’ success often rests with community help

While state lawmakers continue to grapple with tough choices incrafting a state budget for the new fiscal year, their ultimatedecisions could leave local school district leaders and taxpayerswith some tough choices of their own.

House and Senate negotiators remain apart on a spending plan forthe new state year that starts July 1. The impasse has leftnumerous state agencies, local school districts and others acrossMississippi in limbo over how to prepare spending plans, personnelrosters and other activities.

Closer to home, Brookhaven and Lincoln County School Districtleaders last week expressed concerns that local taxpayers could beasked to shoulder a larger financial burden in order to maintainservices at their present levels. Officials at Copiah-LincolnCommunity College, which includes Lincoln County as one of itssupporting counties, were also perplexed over budgetpreparations.

Brookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett said onescenario could see the state funding basic educational needs, butnot allocating funding for special education, gifted education ortransportation.

Barrett said local funds would then be needed for pay fortransportation services and almost 30 special education and giftedprogram instructors. The other option, she said, would beinstructional program cuts.

Lincoln County Superintendent Terry Brister expected hisdistrict would have to look to local taxpayers should educationfunding from the state be cut. His district has already absorbedone hit when $445,000 in surplus funds was needed to fill a budgethole earlier this year.

Cutting programs or personnel, or raising taxes? Neither is apleasant option, but that is a situation local school leaders couldbe facing.

If so, the question for taxpayers to consider will be howcommitted we are to providing the best education possible fortoday’s students and tomorrow’s leaders.

Brookhaven and Lincoln County are blessed to have two qualitypublic school systems that have produced thousands of students whowere prepared for their collegiate futures or to transitionstraight into the world of work. Indeed, in the college prep area,approximately 170 public school students this year alone aregraduating as Mississippi Scholars.

Over the years, successful communities have been those that arewilling to step up to the plate and support their public schoolsystems – whether that be through parental involvement, academicand athletic booster programs or through the pocketbook at taxtime.

In these tough economic times, our schools’ ability to continueto provide high quality educational services could be taxpayershaving to dig a little deeper in their own pockets.

This, of course, is not an endorsement of writing a blank checklocally to cover whatever shortfalls may result from state actionor inaction. But difficult circumstances provide the most tellinganswers as to what a community values and where it places itspriorities.

Brookhaven and Lincoln County have answered the call in thepast, and the results have been outstanding. If needed, will we beready to answer the call again?