State underfunds BSD, LCSD by $18 million

Published 12:01 am Sunday, December 14, 2014

After about half a decade of underfunded public education, schools in the Brookhaven and Lincoln County school districts have worked hard with the money they had but are ready for a larger focus on education spending by the state.

“Parents want a good safe place where their kids can get a good education and we provide that,” Enterprise Attendance Center Principal Shannon Eubanks said, “but we’ve had to squeeze the blood from the turnip, and that turnip is shriveled.”

The Associated Press released specifics on how much money districts have been underfunded since 2009. According to their reports, Lincoln County School District has been underfunded a total of $9,573,422, and Brookhaven has been underfunded a total of $8,617,629.

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“That’s a lot of school buses, teachers, teachers’ assistants and textbooks,” Eubanks said in reaction to the amount for Lincoln County.

“It costs about $125,000 to $150,000 to build a new classroom and to buy a new bus is about $80,000,” Brookhaven School District Superintendent Ben Cox said in regards to the amount his district has been underfunded over the years. “That’s more than enough to have a new bus or couple of new buses for the district.”

Eubanks predicts that parents will be furious. Loyd Star Principal, Robin Case predicts that there will, at the very least, be surprise.

“Prices for a lot of things have gone up and funding has not kept up with that,” Case said. “The state’s mandated new programs for the schools but haven’t been giving more funding, so we’ve had to work with less.”

That’s what the case seems to be like among both Lincoln County and Brookhaven schools. Although the administrations and their employees are aware of the lack of state funding they’ve worked hard to utilize the funds they have to bring to their students the education that they deserve.

“The school has things they’ve wanted to do and have had to do some belt tightening to get things funded that needed to be funded,” Vice President of Brookhaven School District Board of Trustees Stan Patrick said.

“We do what we can do to provide the educational opportunities we need to provide to the students,” Patrick said. “There are teachers that need to be paid, and there are programs that need to be funded, so we have to do what we need to do.”

Patrick said the board has had to pull money from the general fund to do the things they’ve needed to do. He said although the fund is strong its use in situations like this is not ideal.

“I’m disappointed as a taxpayer, a parent and an educator,” Principal Eubanks said. “You rant and you rave and complain and you wonder if they really care about the community at all.”

Cox has great expectations for the future in the wake of the information release.

“I’m optimistically hopeful we’ll see the funding increase between now and the next school year,” he said. “It could really change the school district. It would allow our students to have the same resources and supplies as students in other states.”

Cox said things such as funding and quality of education play hand-in-hand predicting that adequate funding would result in improvements not only in the physical structures of the schools but in school performance as well.

“We could hire 15 or more teachers, so we could have smaller classes. Allowing us to have more advanced math and science classes. Also, we could offer smaller classes for students who need extra help,” Cox said.

Although he understands Mississippi lawmakers do what they can in tough situations, Cox hopes when they do get that extra funding they are able to put it into the education system.

No matter the focus of their sentiment, area school administrators are sure there’s going to be a change in the way public education is funded in their communities.

“I really believe, by talking to parents and listening to the community, that there is going to be a reckoning when it comes to education in this state,” Eubanks said.