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School Budget Cuts

School trustees told budget cuts looming

By Rupert Howell

South Panola school trustees approved a $310,000 tax shortfall note to be paid over a three year period while moving $1 million into a capital projects account at a meeting of the school board Tuesday night.

Board President Lygunnah Bean warned fellow trustees and administrators, “We’re not going to survive cuts (reductions in state funded programs). They are going to be looking at schools with those bank accounts (to cut),” Bean added.

School district financial director Suzanne Covington reminded the trustee board, “Part of this year’s funding was Recovery Money (federal funds provided to boost the economy during the ongoing recession.)”

The $310,000 shortfall note comes from funding that was approved but fell short from lower-than-expected property tax collections.

A higher figure, almost $400,000, was the original difference but past overpayments and negotiations with County Administrator Kelley Magee brought the number to $310,000.

Panola County deputy tax collector Billy Bright said Wednesday that a large portion of the shortfall could be covered with an upcoming sale of land for delinquent taxes and also noted that Tri-lakes Medical Center’s delinquent tax bill was partially to blame for the shortfall.

School administrators in recent years have attempted to keep a surplus or reserve in their budget while spending it conservatively and using surplus funds for capital improvement projects such as the Pope School addition, roofing and other repairs.

Superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer told trustees that funds being deposited into the capital improvements account would not be earmarked specifically for that in case drastic cuts were made and the district needed funding elsewhere.

During principals’ reports, trustees, Shaffer and high school principal Dr. Matthew Dillon continued a discussion of building a ninth grade building.

The high school building is nearing its tenth year of use and several teachers are teaching from carts which allow them to carry supplies to available classrooms. 

Eight additional classrooms and a “half gym” were briefly discussed for the proposed ninth grade building.

Trustees went methodically through their agenda during the monthly meeting, later going into executive session and closing the doors while discussing a personnel matter.

No action was reported from the closed-door session.