School lunch prices going up in August: As promised, no tax increase to cover budget|[6/17/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 17, 2005

A budget request calling for no property-tax increase for schools was delivered to the Vicksburg Warren school board Thursday as promised by the district’s administration.

The chief financial officer for the school district, Dale McClung, presented a budget calling for $70.8 million in spending on $68.2 million in projected revenue, for an expected $2.7 million in apparent deficit spending.

He made the presentation at a required public hearing on the budget that was attended by about 25 people at the district offices. The board is scheduled to meet again June 30 to approve a budget for the district’s next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

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The district has a reserve balance of about $19 million and enough of that amount is unrestricted to make up for the shortfall, McClung said.

The district had undertaken a thorough review of its 200-page budget and had cut it as much as possible, hoping to avoid any such need to dip into its reserves despite including a required 8 percent raise for all teachers, said Dr. James Price, the VWSD superintendent. The budget proposal shows that 75.4 percent of the district’s budgeted expenditures are allocated to salaries and benefits.

The budget review revealed opportunities for millions in savings and much of the amount that was cut could be attributed to changes begun during Price’s administration.

Perhaps the most comprehensive change Price has initiated has returned the way the district assigns students to elementary schools to zoned attendance districts from a program of modified parental choice. That plan increased efficiency in both student transportation and in the assignment of administrative personnel and the new budget relfects those economies, Price has said.

As work on the budget was completed Thursday, however, it became apparent that the use of some reserve money would be needed. The $70.8 million in budgeted expenses is also overstated in that it includes a built-in replenishment of reserves in about the amount of this year’s projected deficit, Price said.

“I can tell you that every person in this district has done their part” to cut the budget, Price said. “There is simply nothing else that can be cut. As the mandates keep flowing from the federal and state governments, we’ve got to meet those mandates.”

Other mandates have included a 1 percent increase in the cost of employee benefits as set by the state government and requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Compared with the budget with which the district began the current fiscal year, the one for the coming year reflects an overall increase in revenue of $1.8 million, including increases in state funding of $1.6 million, local funding of $434,375 and federal funding of $67,543. Receipts from 16th-section land are expected to decrease by $276,857.

Budgeted expenses are down by $1.3 million, including $912,282 allocated to capital spending, $403,725 to instruction and $70,053 to supportive services. Expenses allocated to non-instructional services are expected to increase by $56,739, the proposal shows.

Two people spoke at the meeting, state Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, and Mike Smith, president of the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce. Both voiced appreciation and support for the work of Price and his administration in response to underfunding of the district by the Legislature according to its multiyear funding formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Plan.

“I commend you because I know it has been very difficult for local school districts to make adjustments after the failure of the Legislature,” Flaggs said, adding that he hoped the school board would hold lawmakers accountable for honoring their commitment to funding public education and not shifting more of the responsibility for it to the local level.

The district receives 48.4 percent of its funding from the state government, 33.8 percent from local taxpayers, 16.4 percent from the federal government and 1.4 percent from 16th-section land, McClung’s budget document shows.

“You are one of the few boards leading this state in trying to make this adjustment,” Flaggs said.

Smith praised the district for its initiatives, including the Grove Street School project that includes programs designed to meet non-traditional educational needs.