Speakers criticize plan to raise school taxes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 25, 2002

[06/21/02]Though only one of eight speakers at a Thursday public hearing on the coming year’s school budget directly opposed giving teachers across-the-board raises, all criticized a plan to raise property taxes.

The Vicksburg Warren School District’s budget proposal for the 2002-2003 school year, to be approved by the school board Thursday in a special noon session in the administrative building, provides for fewer, better-paid teachers. It calls for adding a $1,000 local supplement to each teacher’s annual salary.

It also, however, calls for an increase to Warren County taxpayers of about 2.10 mills, or $2.10 on every $1,000 of assessed property valuation, after homestead exemptions and other credits. The district is requesting that $19,776,561 of a $63,298,301 budget come from ad valorem taxes, about 6 percent more than its request for the previous school year.

The amount of the tax increase is down by about 4 percent from the originally published request, for $20,688,418. The amount was lowered because it is based on actual current-year tax collections, which are still coming in and affecting estimates for next year, district chief financial officer Dale McClung said.

Superintendent Donald Oakes said the pay supplements would help the district compete for scarce certified teachers.

“The state needs about 2,400 new teachers a year,” Oakes said. “Of the 1,600 to 1,700 we graduate, only about 800 take a job in Mississippi. The only way we’re going to be able to recruit quality teachers is to pay them.”

In the proposed budget for the 2002-2003 school year, the amount for salaries and benefits is $1,118,620, or 2.6 percent, higher than the previous year. Expenses for instruction, however, show a budgeted increase of only $84,255, or 0.3 percent.

The relative stability in instructional expenses in spite of the teacher-salary increases is made possible by a reduction through attrition of 27 in the number of budgeted licensed employees, which includes teachers. The proposal provides for 634 licensed employees this coming year, a 4.3 percent decrease from the previous year’s 661. The proposed number of non-licensed employees is held steady at 676. The district, which serves about 9,100 students on 14 campuses, has a budget for 1,295 employees.

Speakers at the hearing, which drew about 45 people, expressed concern over schools asking for the maximum tax increases allowable without a referendum.

“It seems to me raising taxes is counterproductive to becoming a desired retirement city,” speaker Pat Barker said. “I’m outraged, and I think the board of Realtors should be just as outraged. It’s wonderful to give teachers a $1,000 raise, but take it out of casino taxes.”

In addition to the local-revenue increase, the budget includes respective increases in state and federal funds of $2,283,418, or 7.9 percent, and $923,595, or 11.7 percent.

Expense categories showing the largest budgeted increases include $1,031,533, or 11.7 percent, in Property/Purchased Services; $638,867, or 40.5 percent, in Equipment and Renovations; and $242,871, or 6.3 percent, in Non-Instructional, which includes food service.

Oakes said the district has budgeted to begin a multiyear plan to replace worn-out school buses, new models of which cost up to $58,000 each. Building renovations are also due at Vicksburg Junior High and Vicksburg High School, and the district is having an architectural firm study its facilities to help in prioritizing other such needs, Oakes said. The study is expected to be complete in July.

The district may also have to pay to settle a wage-and-hour lawsuit and has budgeted about $100,000 to install new employee-time-tracking equipment to prevent such future problems, Oakes said.

The state government is allowing this year’s local requested tax increase without a referendum to be $1,377,326 larger than it normally would because the state is not increasing funding to school districts by as much as it had planned, McClung said.

The state government says it has underfunded its Adequate Education Program to about 50 districts by about $60,000.