New members on school board told money tight

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 30, 2009

The prospect of more money from state and federal sources was the top topic when Vicksburg Warren School District trustees held their first public session, which also included seating two new trustees.

Jim Stirgus Jr. and Joe Loviza were sworn in Thursday as the representatives for Districts 3 and 4, respectively. Stirgus, 45, a former bank officer, won the position from Betty Tolliver in November. Loviza, 68, former Vicksburg mayor, defeated two other challengers after incumbent Jan Daigre did not seek a second term.

Though it is early in the district’s funding cycle — just 9 percent of local property tax money marked for schools has been collected — the financial picture will be decided by cigarette tax debate in Jackson and the federal stimulus plan forming in Washington, D.C.

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If additional money is received, it will supplant about $1.18 million in state funds pledged to the district by the 2008 Legislature under the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The MAEP allocation has been reduced by $90 million statewide due to the state’s income falling short of expectations. So far, the tightening will require caution in spending, but no specific action. The schools are operating on a $75.9 million overall budget and stable local tax rates this year.

Restoring the money by earmarking for schools all or part of a proposed increase in cigarette taxes is part of competing proposals during the legislative session now under way in Jackson. Earlier Thursday, the Senate passed a 49-cent increase aimed at avoiding an increase for car tag costs. The proposals should take a final form in the next several weeks.

“We don’t know what, if anything, it will mean to us,” Superintendent Dr. James Price said. “It will be prudent for us to plan.”

Estimates supplied to the district to the $819 billion economic stimulus plan passed by the U.S. House and forwarded to the U.S. Senate for action next week show about $7.2 million could come to local schools. Nearly $3 million is in the construction category.

Both new trustees were listeners throughout most of their first public session. Loviza quizzed school nutritionist Gail Kavanaugh on the merits of contracting out for cafeteria workers after seeing a $50,000 item on the district’s claims docket. Kavanaugh told Loviza the hourly workers save the district about $100,000 a year in labor costs versus hiring personnel.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at

On the agenda

Meeting Thursday, trustees of the Vicksburg Warren School District:

* Heard a presentation from the Secretary of State’s Office and the Mississippi State Forestry Commission on a 10-year management plan for 16th Section land in the state. The plan calls for improved mapping technology and inventory methods in the MSFC’s management of the lands, over which the Secretary of State is the supervisory trustee. The Vicksburg Warren School District owns 19 sections covering 10,343 acres of mostly forest. The board appeared to favor signing an agreement on the initiative, pending a legal review.

* Tabled discussion and removed from the agenda increasing admission prices to athletic events. Superintendent Dr. James Price said later the issue did not have enough support this month but will be addressed next month.