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Schools face funding cuts

School officials around Mississippi are once again scrambling toreview their operating budgets and look for line items to killafter Gov. Haley Barbour announced another round of cuts for thestate budget Thursday.

The governor’s constitutionally required cuts will be mostlydirected at education funding, with around $114 million detractedfrom that fund. Of that total, the lion’s share – $103 million -will be trimmed from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program,the primary funding formula for school districts.

With the 2009-10 school year barely one month under way anddistrict budgets still warm off the printer after a very lateapproval this summer, local school officials are left searching forspending areas that can absorb the 5 percent cuts.

Brookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett said onlya small portion of her district’s budget can be cut legally.

“You can’t fire your teachers. There’s case law that says youcan’t terminate a teacher just because a district comes up shortfor funding,” she said. “This is a story you’ve heard many times -between 75 and 80 percent of our money is for personnel.”

Barrett said the only budgets that could be lessened to absorbthe state-level funding cuts are those for materials, supplies andprograms, a relatively small area of the budget without much roomfor adjustment. She said cuts in that area would likely lead to areduction in the amount of programs and services offered in thecity school system.

“There’s no way to cut 5 percent out of 25 percent of yourbudget and not see it and feel it,” Barrett said.

Barrett pointed out that schools statewide are already operatingon funding that was reduced by approximately 3.8 percent in thegovernor’s last round of budget cuts earlier this year. Thatfunding was not restored in the current budget.

And despite education’s influx of stimulus money, the federaldollars are without room for reallocation. Barrett said rulesgoverning the stimulus funding state that it cannot be used tosupplant money normally provided by the state or localgovernment.

“Even though the state said they fully funded MAEP, $900,000plus of that came from the feds, not the state,” she said. “Theydidn’t fund MAEP, the feds did, and now they’re cutting 5 percentout of that.”

Barrett said schools have not received any detailed informationfrom the department of education, and local administrators would bemeeting in the coming days to review their budgets.

Lincoln County School District Superintendent Terry Brister saidcuts in his district would likely come across the board. Heestimated the value of the cuts in his district at $500,000, andpredicted the cuts would still be posing problems for the districtin 2010.

“I think we’ll go into next year trying to figure out how tooffset what we just got hit with,” Brister said. “To adjust thisbudget the way it’s going to have to be adjusted, it won’t be aone-year adjustment.”

Brister, like Barrett, is without guidance on the matter, asstate education officials are also still reviewing the numbers. Hesaid it would likely be next week or later before his and otherdistricts know how to handle Thursday’s announcement.

“I heard it yesterday, and I don’t know what I’m going to dotoday,” he said.