Schools brace for state funding cuts

Published 5:00 am Thursday, September 10, 2009

Funding cuts are coming to education in Brookhaven and LincolnCounty.

In totals released Wednesday, the Mississippi Department ofEducation estimated the city and county school districts will losea combined total of more than $1.3 million as a result of 5 percenteducation funding cuts made last week by Gov. Haley Barbour tobalance failing state revenues.

The Brookhaven School District will lose approximately $600,000in Mississippi Adequate Education Program funding – the primaryformula for determining each district’s state funding level – whilethe Lincoln County School District will lose just shy of $700,000.Additional cuts to other education funding programs number in thetens of thousands.

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Brookhaven Superintendent Lea Barrett said she and her staff arestill reviewing the numbers and will require at least another twodays before knowing which segments of the budget can be reduced.She said the amount of the reduction necessary – $612,514 for thecity – means that meaningful programs and services will have to bechopped.

“It’s hard to come up with a half-million dollars worth of fieldtrips,” Barrett said. “I still don’t have anything definite enoughto say where we’re going to make cuts, but they’resignificant.”

State law prohibits districts from firing contracted teachers tomake room for budget reductions, Barrett said, making mid-year cutsdifficult. Payments to teachers and other contracted personnel makeup more than 75 percent of districts’ expenses, so the six-figurereductions will have to be made in only 25 percent of the overallbudget.

Even so, Barrett said hers and other districts have already beenconfigured to run on minimums for the 2009-10 school year, leavingeven less room for the cuts.

“We felt like we were at a bare bones staff anyway,” she said.”That only leaves materials, supplies and other programs.”

In Education Enhancement Funds, the city district will also lose$14,234 in its ad valorem reduction fund and $2,201 in itsclassroom supply fund, lessening the amount of money teachers haveto use at their discretion to upgrade their classrooms. Thedistrict did not receive a cut to its buildings and buses fund,which was held harmless because payments to debt services are beingmade this year.

The county district’s share of the cuts will be even larger thanBrookhaven’s, with $679,838 being trimmed from its MAEP allocationand a further $26,829 coming out of its EEF money. Overall countylosses from the 5 percent cut total $706,667.

The county district’s cuts are larger than the city’s by alittle more than $94,000, but county Superintendent Terry Bristersaid his district was in good shape to handle the comingreductions.

“I’m OK right now. We see where we can make it now, but it willtake its toll eventually, if this continues,” he said.

Brister said the county district would cut its non-essentialprojects, including technology upgrades, emergency teacher fundsand a few demolition projects scheduled to take place around thedistrict’s four schools. He said the county school board rarelyspends its complete annual budget and has enough money set asidefor non-essential projects that can be diverted to absorb the 5percent cuts.

“We always put (money aside for) four extra teachers, one ateach school, in case our numbers go up. So there’s $120,000,”Brister said. “In technology, we’re talking about some big moneythere. In those two areas alone, we’re talking about $300,000 to$400,000. We can put that off until next year or the next.”

Brister said the district would still go forward with eightconstruction projects either planned for this year or being plannedfor the future, including new parking lots and ball field upgrades.He warned, however, that the district could not continue to takesuch financial punishment.

“To tell you I’m not going to look at bigger cuts in the future,I’d be lying,” Brister said.

The future may hold just that.

“What worries me the most is I do not think this is the end ofit,” she said. “We all anticipate that 2011 will be just as tightin terms of dollars as this year is, and there’s no expectation ofstimulus money for next year. So, that’s very worrisome.”