Budget woes put staff, program cuts in bull’s-eye

Published 6:39 pm Thursday, March 18, 2010

Brookhaven school leaders will consider layoffs and program cutsnext week to prepare the district for a seriously reduced budget inthe coming fiscal year.

Brookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett said shewould present the school board with options for operating on 15percent less state funding in fiscal year 2011, a cutback thatwould make cuts in personnel and programs unavoidable. She wouldnot disclose the nature of the cutbacks before conferencing withthe board, but stressed there would be no way around thereductions.

“We will have to look at what staff we can work without and whatprograms we can work without,” Barrett said. “There are some thingsthat maybe we can reduce … but when three-quarters of your budgetgoes for personnel, you can’t take that kind of cut withoutaffecting your personnel.”

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The school board meets Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the district’s centraloffice.

Barrett said the district will begin the next fiscal year witharound 8 percent less funding than normally allocated for theMississippi Adequate Education Program, and state education leadersare counting on further cuts by Gov. Haley Barbour as revenuescontinue to fall. She said House Education Committee Chairman CecilBrown told a meeting of superintendents to expect cuts to reach upto 15 percent next year.

Such cuts would see another $1.8 million shaved off the district’sapproximately $12 million MAEP allocation, which is already downmore than $1 million from previous cuts. Barbour made his fifth cutto the fiscal year 2010 budget Wednesday, which Barrett saidtrimmed a further $16.8 million out of MAEP, basically cutting halfthe almost $34 million the Legislature only recentlyrestored.

Barrett said the five cuts have been offset by spending out of theschool’s vital fund balance, an account that normally holds around5 percent of the annual budget to deal with emergencies and providecash flow between MAEP payments.

“Because those cuts came after the budget had been established forthis year, we really had to eat those cuts,” Barrett said.

The district’s cuts will likely come sooner rather thanlater.

Barrett said state law requires districts to let teachers know iftheir services will be retained or not by one of two deadlines -April 15, or 10 days after the governor signs the annual allocationbill. With the same deadlocks in the Legislature that made lastyear’s session drag on into the summer predicted to extend the 2010session as well, school leaders are getting their houses in orderto meet the April 15 timeframe.

“I don’t think it’s really fair to make all your employees wait toknow if they have a job until after the bill is signed, so we haveto use the April 15 mandate,” Barrett said. “You have to budgetwithout knowing. That’s the really stressful part.”

Barrett said superintendents have been advised they may need toincrease local ad valorem taxes, or property taxes, to make up thedifference in state funding reductions. Barrett opposed the idea,saying Brookhaven “already financially and emotionally supportspublic education.”

Lincoln County School District Superintendent Terry Brister couldnot be reached for comment, and it is unclear how county schoolswill prepare for next year’s reduced budget.

According to the Mississippi Department of Education’s numbersprior to the governor’s fifth cut Wednesday, the county district’stotal MAEP allocation after the recent budget restoration stood atalmost $13.9 million. A 15 percent reduction next year would takemore than $2 million away from the district.