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Schools consider $24.6M budget — Small crowd offers a few questions for ’18-’19 spending plan

Lincoln County schools will split $24.6 million to get through the 2018-19 school year, a spending plan down slightly from last year’s budget but one school officials feel meets the needs of the district’s 3,100 students.

The county school board went over the projections with a few members of the public Monday night during a public hearing on the budget, which calls for $24,642,428 in revenues and puts the district on a plan to being debt free by 2020. The board is projecting almost $29.2 million in expenditures, but most of the $4.5 million overdraw is for budgeted construction projects and the total will be reduced as they are completed and paid for, said district business manager Sam Stewart.

“I think this is a really good budget,” said Stewart. “We worked hard on it, and it’s a true reflection of what we think next year’s going to look like.”

The bulk of the county budget — 60 percent — will come from $14,926,401 in state funds provided through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, and $5,822,686 will come from local taxes, good for 24 percent. The federal government is chipping in $3,234,076, good for 13 percent, and the district will draw $659,266, or 3 percent, from 16th Section revenue.

The district will spend more than $18 million for teacher salaries and benefits. More than $8.6 million is budgeted for instructional services, a category that contains anything from teaching assistants’ salaries to libraries. The district is planning more than $3.5 million in construction projects — $300,000 is budgeted for new school buses, a new wastewater treatment plant at Enterprise is expected to cost around $200,000 and Stewart said there are “several dozen” smaller renovation projects ongoing in the district.

The small remainder of the money is split between non-instructional services, 16th Section expenses and debt service.

The district has budgeted $367,600 in debt service toward a general obligation bond that, once paid off in 2020, will leave the district debt free. The district owes $1.3 million on the bond.

“That’s gonna be nice,” Stewart said. “We don’t have to budget for that in the upcoming year. There’s some positive things in the budget.”

The projected budget is short of last year’s $25.03 million plan by around $430,000. That amount and more was lost from the county’s MAEP allocations.

The new budget also reflects some federally-mandated changes — Loyd Star lost a teaching slot and Bogue Chitto picked it up due to equity requirements in Title I payments the district satisfied by examining student-teacher ratios.

Hugh Mathis, a West Lincoln booster, said during the public comment period he thought the government’s equity rule was a good idea, and he suggested applying similar logic to campus construction projects.

“I would like to see if one campus is getting $50,000 to build something, then I think every school should get the same amount of money for their campus,” he said.

Stewart pointed out the district’s facility work is not coded to a school location and each school’s budget is allocated on a per-pupil basis. Superintendent Mickey Myers said all the campuses are in good shape.

Per-student spending

Gwen Schilling-Dickey, a former special education teacher with the district, read off three prepared questions aimed at the district’s per-student spending, Loyd Star’s agriculture program and the upcoming selection of the district’s first appointed superintendent.

She read from a a 2015/16 Mississippi Department of Education report showing the district’s per-student spending at $7,359, which was at least $2,000 below every neighboring district. She asked the board if the proposed budget addressed the perceived shortfall.

“Are we really using the ad valorem system for our students, or are we using it politically to say, ‘We’re not going to raise your taxes?’” Dickey asked. “Our admin costs are not significantly above the state average, but if we’re way below on our pupil expenditure, why are we any above the state average on administration?”

Stewart said per-pupil costs are not an accurate way to gauge how much money the district puts toward each student — a breakdown of instructional costs in the classroom would be better, he said. At Dickey’s request, he said he would prepare the information for the next board meeting.

Myers also pointed out there had been no additional administrative positions and no administrative pay raises since he was elected in 2015.

Edgar Jacks, another citizen in attendance, offered his own take on per-student funding.

“Comparing Franklin County to Lincoln County is apples to oranges,” he said. “None of those systems operate with the number of schools Lincoln County does. If Franklin County is spending that much per student, why do we have so many students from Franklin County coming over here?”

Dickey’s next question was about a consolidated agricultural high school for the entire district. Dickey wanted to know if the current budget contained any earmarks for the proposal.

“There never was a plan presented like that,” Myers said. “There has been some talk of a centralized career tech center. Right now, Bogue Chitto has no career tech option. We’re in the process of being able to add a program there.”

Myers said he had met with Brookhaven School District Superintendent Ray Carlock to get a first-hand look at Brookhaven’s career tech center, which is a successful program with national accreditation.

“The more we commit to career tech, the better we’re gonna be,” he said.

Dickey’s last question asked if the proposed budget contained any cash set aside for the board’s upcoming superintendent search. The board met with Mississippi School Boards Association Executive Director Michael Waldrop to discuss the upcoming search in late March, and there are several options — including hiring a search firm — available.

But first, Myers has to tell the board if he’s interested or not, and he’s been quiet.

“Mr. Myers has been given a grace period to give the board an answer. He’s an elected official,” said board president Diane Gill. “We cannot take the next step until we hear from him.”

The board will meet again at 5 p.m. on June 28 to approve the budget.