School budget calls for no increase

By PAT BROWN,

School opens again in a little over a month, and according to school officials if everything goes as planned no increase in millage will be needed to support this year’s school budget. 

On Thursday, June 27, the Simpson County School District held their annual budget hearing and the crowd was pretty slim, as noted by one of the few in attendance. 

Director of Finance Duane Fewell presented his budget recommendations to the board for their approval.  The budget will not be finalized or adopted by the board until later in July. 

The total of the annual operations budget will be $37,413,471.22 with anticipated revenues of $36, 819763.52.  The difference of $593,707.70 will not be a shortfall, Fewell said, because the district has the funds to make up the difference. 

Fewell said some positives will come from this year’s budget.  The biggest is that state funding for MAEP, Mississippi Adequate Education Program,  has increased by $587,746 over last year’s budget figure from the state.  The total of the MAEP funding for the district for the upcoming year is $18, 068,602, up from just over $17 million last year.  Fewell attributed the majority of the increase to increased enrollment in the county. 

In addition, the state is funding most of the mandated raises for teachers and teacher assistants.  For Simpson County that figure is $420,633 including benefits of approximately $1,800.  However,  raises for  teachers of gifted programs, vocational teachers and special education teachers were not funded by the state.  According to Fewell, that affects almost 100 employees in Simpson County.  At the board’s direction the Finance Department is looking for ways to fund raises for those positions. 

Part of the budget includes capital improvements at Magee High School for a new field house and a bus barn.  This brought some opposition and comment from one citizen who attended the hearing. Lee McCoy said he understood funding education but that his tax dollars did not need to be spent on items like a field house, they needed to be spent on education, he asserted.  McCoy said he educated his children at home and paid his share to support education through his taxes.  He expressed his displeasure that the school board could establish a budget within certain guidelines and the county government has no choice other than to fund it. 

The budgeted cost of the new field house for Magee is $1.9 million.  There are also plans for a new bus barn building that is being relocated from Mendenhall to the site of the Alternative School in Magee.  The funding for this facility also includes a new roof for the vocational center. 

Other large ticket items in the budget include another round of text book adoptions.  Last year the textbook cost was $150,000, and that has increased an additional $75,000.  According to Fewell, a large portion of the textbook budget is going to new mathematics textbooks. 

The additional funding for teacher pay raises did not cover the entire mandated expense by the legislature so individual school districts will have to make up the shortfall.  Simpson County’s share will be an additional $200,000.  Also, the employer match for state retirement will increase from 15.75 percent to 17.4 percent.  Fewell put the county’s cost at an additional $290,000. An increase in health insurance benefits will add $49,000 to the budget. 

The school district does not request millage. It requests dollar figures from the county.  They are asking the county for ad valorem taxes in the amount of $9,711,988, which represents what is paid in property taxes and automobile tags.  However the actual millage required to service the budget request is 42.77 mills and another 2.5 mills to service debt payment on the new Magee Elementary facility.  Fewell told the board the increase only represented increased valuation on property from the previous budget year. 

The majority of the balance of the budget comes from the state, $18.6 million, and federal funds go into the equation also. 

This year’s school budget funding will be made up of 52.7 percent coming from state funding, 28.7 percent from local funding through ad valorem taxes, 16.6 percent coming though federal funds, and 2 percent contributed from sixteenth section funding. 

Despite the increased enrollment in the county,  some individual schools experienced a decrease in enrollment which necessitated moving some teaching positions, but no cuts were made in teaching positions for the year. 

Almost $27 million will be spent on personnel cost with 50 percent of the budget being spent on classroom instruction,  $5.6 million going toward services and just over $3 million going toward the purchase of goods.