South Panola trustees propose $37.5 million budget 6/27/2014

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 27, 2014

South Panola trustees propose $37.5 million budget

By John Howell

South Panola school trustees will meet Monday to adopt $37.5 million budget for the 2014-’15 school year following a June 20 public hearing where school officials discussed steps they took to cut district expenses in the face of reduced state funding.

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“What hurt us was the new law that went into effect with the ADA (average daily attendance) 63 percent,” Superintendent Tim Wilder said. “Sixty-three percent of the day a student had to be in attendance,” Wilder continued, referring to a  change that became effective for 2014-’15 school year funding from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP).

“In the past if a student came to school for an hour or ten minutes, they were counted present,” Wilder said. “When this new law came into effect they had to be there 63 percent of the day, so when you calculate ADA from a 63 percent law, the amount significantly drops…”

“That is what cost us close to a half million,” the superintendent said.

“But even though they count the children there?” board trustee Lygunnah Bean asked.

“Oh, yes it cost the same whether they are in attendance or not;  you’ve got every expense whether the student’s absent or whether they’re present,” Wilder said.

“Are we working on that? Are we trying to reduce that?” trustee Buddy Gray asked, referring to absenteeism that cuts down ADA.

“We’re going to try to do a much better job next year on ADA,” Wilder replied.

The superintendent said that he had talked with legislators “who seem optimistic about the fact that we may be able to pass a law where it’s the membership versus the attendance, … but that’s a good ways down the road.”

The budget discussion included trustees Sandra Darby, Jerry Cooley, Kenny Hopper, in addition to Gray and Bean and the superintendent. Also participating the public hearing meeting were assistant Superintendent Charles Bean, and board attorney Ryan Revere.

Guiding school officials through the budget numbers was Suzanne Covington, who will retire in December as district business manager. David Rubenstein, her replacement, who will start July 1, also attended.

Trustees hired Rubenstein in April. He is former business manager in the Moss Point district and serves as vice-president of the Mississippi School Business Officials.

Covington walked officials through budget sheets, line by line, to explain calculations of the funding sources that provide revenue to balance with the $37.5 million in expenses.

The MAEP shortfall created by the switch to the 63 percent funding compounded a revenue shortage also exacerbated by state-mandated teacher pay raises and the $1.5 million reduction from ad valorem tax proceeds lost when the former LSP Energy facility was purchased in 2012 by South Mississippi Electric Power Association (SMEPA). State law exempts facilities owned by non-profit co-ops from paying county and school taxes.

The SP district received $1.5 million from a gift to the county from SMEPA last year, but $30 million budgeted for repairs to the power plant prevented a gift for the 2015-’16 school buget, an SMEPA told county officials in February.

“The teacher pay raise cost us around $750,000,” Wilder said. “We’ve cut about that much out of our payroll since the fall until now.”

The superintendent said 18 or more positions in the district had been eliminated due to attrition to offset the payroll cost increase.

“If we didn’t have to deal with that 63 percent law, we’d have been fine,” Cooley said.

“Some of those districts fluffed those numbers, and they got by with it,” trustee Bean said.

“Sometimes things like that come back to haunt you later on,” Gray said.

“From my perspective, I’m very glad we did it right,” the attorney said.

In other business at the June 20 meeting:

• The superintendent submitted for first reading proposed revisions in the student handbook that include the student dress code.

Wilder said he requested trustees’ approval of the dress code by June 30.

“I think it would be very helpful for our parents to know by the first of July, particularly as it relates to dress code,” he said. 

The information will be posted on the school’s web site, he said;

• “We’re going to amend our due process,” assistant Superintendent Bean said. 

“Our current policy: after a hearing the parent or guardian appeals straight to the school board. We want to ask another step which (be) would they would appeal to the superintendent first,” Bean said.

• Bean said that other changes to align board policy with policy stated in the student handbook;

• Trustees agreed to decide at their July 22 meeting whether to join other districts in a lawsuit against the state legislature to recover three years’ shortfall in MAEP funding.

Former Governor Ronnie Musgrove, a principal in Musgrove Smith law firm, made a proposal at the June 17 board meeting. Musgrove said that the legislature had violated state law by underfunding the SP district $13.2 million.

Musgrove is a former school board attorney for the South Panola District.