County school administrators said they feel like their backs are up against the wall when it comes to the district’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year.
With additional state government funding cuts, the district is taking a hard look at requesting another millage increase to cover the costs of an already “bare” district budget.
A public hearing was held last week with few in attendance to review the 2017 fiscal budget for the Yazoo County School District.
The district is currently operating with a projected total budget revenue of $18,153,909. Of that amount, 32.9 percent or $5,974,717 of the money is obtained through ad valorem taxes.
For the upcoming proposed budget, the district is projected to operate with a $19,200,672 budget. Of that amount, 31.03 percent or $5,957,237 is proposed to be financed through a tax levy.
School leaders said the district might have to possibly request a four percent millage increase to make ends meet. That millage increase would roughly total about $242,460.
The school district requested a four percent millage increase last year as well. And leaders fear with more state government cuts, that trend may continue in the future.
The Mississippi Adequate Education Program funding was decreased to the county school district by 38 percent in the upcoming school year.
Becky Fisher, district superintendent, said the MAEP (which is a formula designed to set a level of “adequate” funding) is not fully funded. She said it is difficult to maintain a successful school district when funds continue to be cut.
“The state sources are a joke,” Fisher said. “That’s just the way it is. No, we are not fully funded. We have got to do something about this. It is going to take all of us.”
Fisher said although MAEP was not fully funded, teacher salaries still increased.
Teacher salaries increased by 47 percent, or $588,405. Other positions saw a 42 increase in salaries, totaling $57,287.
“We are being forced to spend because of everything going up,” Fisher said. “Our staff is bare minimum. We took away assistant principals this year. Sometimes teachers don’t have assistants. We have to pass (assistants) around. It’s bare minimum.”
Fisher also added that much needed improvements also had to be made within the district’s food services.
Fisher said MAEP has cut the county school district over $500,000.
“Our projected fund balance at this time is $4.5 million,” Fisher said. “That amount is not all spendable. We cannot touch $2.4 million of that. The rest we can. But we are trying to save as much as we can.”
Fisher said she is frustrated because funds continue to be cut from the school district. And she believes it’s all politics.
“The state is giving millions of tax breaks to big businesses,” Fisher said. “Because of that, they don’t have the amount of money they were saying in the budget to fully fund us. What do we need to do? We need to get on the phones.”
Fisher said the district invited Yazoo’s legislators to the public hearing to comment on the matter. State Rep. Kenneth Walker was the only lawmaker in attendance.
State Sen. Briggs Hopson did email school leaders to say that he would be unable to come.
Fisher added that they received no response from the other lawmakers.
“We need to talk to our parents about calling (them),” Fisher said. “We can call them all day long. They are accustomed to us calling. But if the parents call and complain about this...they are not giving us enough money to operate on.”
Tom Taylor, assistant superintendent, said many school districts are able to survive thanks to their already strong tax base.
Taylor added that MAEP has not been fully funded in 10 of the last 12 years.
“It is becoming a trend of putting the burden back on school districts to either spend down their fund balance, maintaining a certain amount by law, or you continue to put that burden back on your local taxpayers,” Taylor said. “How do we continue to address upside down budgets that will continue not to improve? You can’t just continue to pound all the responsibility back here when you are giving hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts of anticipated revenue away.”
Taylor said it is all a big gamble because it is still unclear whether those anticipated “big businesses” will even grow.
“We have gotten to the point where we had to cut back on staff,” Fisher said. “We have got to the point where we can’t cut back anymore. We have cut back as much as we can cut back.”