School board members showed their excitement Thursday with applause and words of congratulations upon hearing that the Yazoo City Municipal School District had more than doubled the fund balance in FY2015. Business Manager Letitia Johnson told of the approximate 140 percent increase in capital the school district had managed to sock away during the 2014-2015 school year.
“We have good news with our district maintenance budgets,” Johnson said during the Oct. 8 school board meeting. “We see that we began the year, July 2014, with a $1 million fund balance, and we ended the year with the grace of God with a $2.4 million fund balance.”
After adding that the athletic activities account began FY2014 year with a $1,000 fund balance and ended with a $6,300 fund balance, she said, “All of our other accounts are looking good and we're looking forward to another good year.”
During the financial report, Trustee Lula Starling questioned Johnson about the district's hiring and compensation practices.
“Is the district getting in more money than we have in the past, and my question (is), when we had to (replace) a lot of people, for everybody that was (replaced), we're hiring three to four people in that particular individual's place,” Starling said. “And they have come to us with a much higher salary than the one that was (replaced), and I'm just wondering if all our bills are being paid in a timely manner because I've got a question with our fund balance still being what it is and looking at all the new personnel that we are hiring on a monthly basis and that gives me concern.”
Starling said she doesn't want the school district to go back to making unwise financial decisions.
“I don't want us to go back like we were years ago when we were not told the truth …,” she said. “It just raises a red flag for me because we've been down this road before, and I just don't want us to get in that same bind again when the state (Education Department) was almost ready to take over because we were not straight and above board.”
Following Starling's comments, Trustee Dave Collins asked Johnson, “Do we have any outstanding bills beyond 30 days?”
“To my knowledge, we have no outstanding bills beyond 30 days,” Johnson responded, but Superintendent Lucille Lovette noted that the school district has 45 days instead of 30 days to get the bills paid.
“Anything past 45 (days)?” Collins replied.
“Not to my knowledge,” Johnson said, chuckling.
On the vote to approve the financial report, Starling cast the sole “nay” vote.
In other financial matters, Lovette said the school district is losing a great deal of money because of student absences. In her attendance report, she said, “our average participation for the district is 92.66 (percent).”
Lovette said the district's poor attendance record has “plagued us for the last few years. We have lost over $1.3 million just in attendance alone in this district in the last three years because we cannot get our students to attend school every day.”
She said Webster Elementary School holds the highest attendance record at 94.32 percent.
“We have an average of 28 students in (kindergarten) and first grade absent every day,” Lovette said. “At our high school, (the absenteeism rate) is even higher. What happens is that the children come to school, and their parents come and check them out at 12 o'clock or 1 o'clock. There's a 63 percent truancy rule (which) means we lose (those students') attendance for that day. We were already red-flagged last year because we had too many absences at our high school.”
Lovette said Yazoo City High School has an average of 50 students not attending school every day. At McCoy Elementary School, there is an average of 48 absentees.
“Again, this is a huge issue,” she said. “We will be sending out announcements reminding parents that even if they take children to the doctor to get those excuses in.”
Lovette said the school district's goal is 94-95 percent attendance rate.
“We need our students to be in school,” she said. “We had some parents who did not bring their children to school until after Labor Day. Those children have missed three weeks of school.”
She noted that at the high school, a student came to enroll last week.
“We are having nine weeks exams, and the student came to enroll,” Lovette said.
When Starling asked if the local judges are handing down severe enough sentences for truancy, Collins said truancy cases are normally handled in justice court.
“The state protocol is to go through youth court,” Collins said. “Judge (Derek) Parker, who is the youth court judge, will not hear any of our cases, so we have to go through the justice court, Judge (Pam) May and Judge (Bennie K.) Warrington. Normally, they'll put the parent on probation.... You shouldn't have to take a parent to court to entice a child to go to school.”
Collins said the initial fine for truancy cases is $367.
“And the following year, that same (parent) repeats again,” Lovette added. “We had repeat (offenders) from last year. The same parents again this year.”
“When a child gets behind, there's a tendency for him not to want to go to school,” Collins said. “That's on any level (of school).”