School district able to avoid teacher layoffs

Published 6:36 pm Wednesday, May 26, 2010

School districts statewide are slashing programs and cuttingteachers to get back under budget after severe cuts to educationfunding, but the knife won’t be seen in the Lincoln County systemthis year.

The Lincoln County School District will replace all but ahandful of retiring or leaving teachers and will not turn tolayoffs to restrict expenses. The district plans to bring back allof its teachers for the upcoming fiscal year.

Years of pinching pennies and refusing excesses have led to astable district that can carry on business as normal, despitesizeable losses in state funding, said Superintendent TerryBrister.

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“We’ve been making our bed the last five, six, seven years. I’mgoing right along like I’ve been doing,” he said. “We don’t haveany fluff, we don’t have anything extra. We’ve worked hard at that,and now it’s paying off.”

Brister spent most of Tuesday morning in his office, signingcontracts for all of the district’s approximately 200 teachers. Thesoftest method of reducing the workforce – attrition, or notreplacing vacated positions – will be used extremely sparingly,with only three teachers and two assistant teachers not scheduledfor replacement for the 2010-11 school year, he said.

Instead, the district has relied on a fund balance built upthrough the financially robust years and made small trimmings toprograms.

The school board decided not to buy new textbooks for thedistrict until new editions appear in 2012, staff is beingrearranged and reassigned throughout the four county schools toplug gaps and no new school buses will be purchased this year.Highly compensated veteran teachers who’ve retired are beingreplaced by younger instructors who start out at lower pay grades,and the tuition rate for out-of-district students was raised from$300 to $600.

So far, the termination of a single school nurse and theelimination of the tutoring program have been the only employmentcasualties to arise from the district’s weakened budget. Retiredteachers working on a part-time basis staffed the tutoring program,Brister said.

“During the good times, we’ve only spent what we needed tospend, not what we could have spent,” he said. “We’ve worked hardto get our house in order, so that when things like this didhappen, we’d be in good financial shape.”

While the Lincoln County School District prepares to cruise intothe new fiscal year beginning July 1, other districts inMississippi have not had it so easy.

Announcements of layoffs, program cuts and more have poured infrom the state’s four corners as administrators come to terms withHouse Bill 1622, which appropriates money to the state’s primarymethod for funding K-12 education, the Mississippi AdequateEducation Formula.

According to data released by the Mississippi Parents’ Campaign,HB 1622 – which was signed by Gov. Haley Barbour last week -contains approximately $232 million less for MAEP than was awardedin fiscal year 2010. The campaign also claims the bill provides $37million less than schools had for the current fiscal year, evenafter numerous rounds of mid-year budget cuts.

The reduced funding level has already forced unfavorableadjustments in the Brookhaven School District, where the board lastmonth cut programs, laid off seven teachers and will leave 25-30positions vacant for the coming year. The city district receivesless MAEP funding but has a bigger overall budget because of localtax collections.

But the Lincoln County district avoided such trauma, and stillhas cushion for future cuts. District business manager CherylShelby is budgeting with a safety net, programming in $13.04million in MAEP expenses despite a total allocation of $13.34million.

“I’m going to balance my budget with the most conservativefigures,” she said. “I’m anticipating another cut down theroad.”

The Lincoln County School District already has the lowestper-pupil expense ratio of any of the state’s 152 school districts,but Shelby said the district’s teachers and staff make the dollarsstretch with effort.

“Our staff is bare bones, and our employees work really hard andare able to get a lot done with the dollars we spend,” she said.”Our maintenance shop has two mechanics to work on 50 buses, ourcampuses have two janitors a piece. We get a lot out of ouremployees. We didn’t create a lot of positions other districtsdid.”