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County schools pursue smaller 2010-11 budget

The Lincoln County School District’s annual budget is projectedto decrease by about $3 million for the coming fiscal year, butschool officials say they’re ready for the drop and can takeanother funding cut if necessary.

District business manager Cherly Shelby is expecting the schoolsystem’s budget for the 2010-11 school year to drop to about $24million from the current year’s $26.9 million spending plan, buteven the new, weakened budget has been designed with cushion inanticipation of cuts to state education funding. State educationleaders have told school districts to prepare for another 5 percentcut to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the main formulathe state uses to fund its 152 school districts.

“There’s a $300,000 difference between what they’re giving me inMAEP and what I budget,” Shelby said. “I could take a $300,000 hitand not have to do anything. If it’s a bigger cut, I could sustainthose cuts through my fund balance if I have to, but I’m hoping Iwon’t have to.”

The county school system’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2011will be unveiled in detail Monday at 5 p.m. during a public hearingat the district office. The district is not seeking an increase inlocal property tax contributions.

The pending budget will receive an MAEP allocation of$13,043,641; about $3.5 million in local tax contributions; and$3.3 million in federal grants and other sources.

An additional $4 million is expected from 16th Sectionprincipal, timber sale and other school activities, but those fundsare not 100 percent reliable and do not reflect funds the districtwill depend upon, Shelby said. Districts are allowed to spend onlythe interest earned on oil royalties, and about $9 million inuntouchable principal exists in the county’s funds, she said.

The federal and 16th Section funds are also the primary sourceof the district’s almost $3 million loss from fiscal year 2010,Shelby said. She said the district’s federal appropriation hasfallen from $4.4 million to $3.3 million, 16th Section principalcollected from oil royalties are down from $2.3 million to $1.07million and another $800,000 has been lost in 16th Section timbersales.

“That $3 million really wasn’t spendable money anyway,” Shelbysaid.

Shelby builds the district’s budget each year on the principlethat less is more, never budgeting expenditures to the full amountallowed by revenues. Such under-budgeting allowed the district tosurvive fiscal year 2010 without initiating layoffs or cuts, andwill lessen the impact of losses next year.

“Because of my conservative budget in fiscal year 2010, theamounts I’ve been allocated for fiscal year 2011 are not reallyreductions,” she said. “I cut everything to the bone in fiscal year2010 and stayed with a no-frills budget for 2011.”

Superintendent Terry Brister said years of conservativebudgeting have put his district in a position to absorb fundingcuts, but more cuts in the future may topple the district’s solidfinancial standing.

“Each and every year, we buy what we need, not what we want. Ithas paid off at this time,” he said. “We didn’t look for this dayto come, but by being conservative we’re able to survive. But wecan’t continue to take the cuts that have been given out the pasttwo years.”