Teacher pay boosts VWSD budget to $65.3 million

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 28, 2003

[05/28/03] Higher pay for teachers and teacher assistants is the major factor as the public school budget here rises by $2.1 million for the next term but the increase won’t require a local property tax increase.

“The teachers’ and teacher assistants’ salaries are the overwhelmingly majority of the budget because of the 6 percent raise they got,” said retiring Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent Donald Oakes.

About $33.7 million of the $65.3 million spending plan approved Tuesday by the board of trustees is allocated for instructional salaries.

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It’s the third year of a six-year pay-increase plan created and funded by the Legislature in 2000. After the plan’s first- and second-year raises of 2 percent, the raises are 6 percent in years three and four and 8 percent in years five and six.

Funds come through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.

The increases mean a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and one year of experience will make $28,655 in the coming year compared with the $27,345 earned this year, including a local supplement of $2,200. The local school district also pays many teachers who teach courses not included in the state’s basic curriculum and matches their state increases.

Board members allowed room in the budget for an increase in the salaries of other non-instructional personnel, but have yet to approve the exact amount.

“Personnel cost is always going to be the largest part of the expenditures in the educational field,” said Dale McClung, director of financial operations for the school district.

Additionally, the board of trustees approved buying nine new school buses including two 84-seat buses and seven 71-seat buses at the cost of about $400,000.

“We can use the larger buses not only along our normal routes but for special trips for sports, band trips or other activities,” said Transportation Supervisor David Keen, adding that the bigger buses have equipment storage compartments.

The district operates 152 buses for its 9,200 students and rotates older buses out. Keen said the state recommends having no buses over 10-years-old.

“We would like to replace 15 buses a year if we could,” Keen said. “If you change 10 percent of your fleet each year, you should have no bus over 10-years-old.” The district’s oldest bus is a 1988 model.

About $3 million of the budget will be spent to continue capital projects. The money will help fund the $1.5 million band hall at Vicksburg High School, which is expected to be completed by the start of the next school year. It will also pay for roofing jobs at Vicksburg High School and Bowmar Avenue Elementary School.

The money used for capital projects is from the gaming industry and from the sale of properties including Halls Ferry and Jett elementary schools, said Marti Gunkel, director of accounting for the school district.

The district gets property taxes on the four casino developments, including hotels, of about $2 million a year, plus 10 percent of a 3.2 percent tax on money patrons lose at casinos operating here since 1993.

Last year, the trustees hired Tupelo architects to come up with a schedule of capital work needed. The trustees then established priorities and began with roofing work last fall.

Board members announced in a public hearing last week they would not ask for an increase in the current local property tax rate of 46.90 mills. It’s the first year in three years there has been no local property tax increase for schools. The local portion of the budget is about $21.6 million. A portion comes from tuition, fees, donations and cafeteria sales, but about $19.9 million comes from taxes collected on homes, vehicles, businesses and industries.

Oakes has said the lack of a tax increase is due to the full-funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program by the state Legislature early in the regular session. Some taxpayers may see higher tax bills, however, due to higher property valuations.

Oakes will step down as superintendent June 30, the end of the district’s fiscal year, and will be replaced by James Price, who was chosen above two other finalists last week.

The Vicksburg Warren School District was formed by consolidating the formerly separate city and county school districts in 1986. In its first year, the budget was about $26 million.