Schools unsure of funding fallout|Legislature, stimulus money parts of the mix

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Mississippi Legislature passed an education budget last week, but local school officials aren’t counting the money just yet.

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Hank Bounds announced Friday that the state’s last-minute budget fully funded the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the source of just more than half of local school revenues.

Since the local school budget had been reduced about 5 percent in anticipation of cuts, a fully funded budget sounds like more cash is on its way.

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But that’s not the case. “It won’t have any impact on us,” Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent James Price said by phone from Biloxi, where he was attending superintendents’ meetings. “They fully funded it, but took the federal stimulus money that should have been used for the ’08-’09 school year and combined it with some that was supposed to be used for this year to do it.”

In fact, in terms of actual dollars, Vicksburg schools are slated to receive about $30,000 less than the figure Price used in setting the budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, which began Wednesday. That figure was $37,789,528, compared to the $37,768,747 the state now says the district will be receiving in increments over the next 11 months.

“Fortunately we have enough of a cushion to absorb it,” he said.

To fully fund MAEP, the Legislature drew on $160 million in federal stimulus money.

The state contributes about 50.5 percent of the money the district uses to pay its expenses. Of the remaining funds, about 34 percent comes from local property taxes, just over 14 percent from federal sources and about 1 percent from income derived from 16th section or public school trust land.

In April the school board of trustees adopted a budget of about $78.6 million based on anticipated total revenues of $74.8 million, down about $2.6 from the 2008-2009 budget.

No teacher layoffs were part of the budget reduction from fiscal 2009 to 2010, though some positions were eliminated by attrition at the end of the year and rescheduling and some course reorganizations for the coming year, Price said in March. Vicksburg public schools employ about 650 teachers for 9,200 students.

Almost 74 percent of school expenses are for salaries and benefits, with other expenses including land improvement and equipment (9 percent), supplies (9 percent) and professional services (3 percent).

Price cited 5 percent cuts in the 2008-2009 budget that the district had to implement in the fall after Gov. Haley Barbour ordered cuts required by law when revenues fall short of expectations. Statewide, about $90 million was reduced from MAEP payments to local boards in the last fiscal year.

School officials had been told federal stimulus money would be disbursed in time to cover some of those cuts before the end of the 2009 fiscal year June 30.

In developing the 2009-2010 budget, local school officials anticipated more cuts. “We developed the budget with a 5 percent reduction in case they reduced it again this year,” Price said.

Information about stimulus money availability, regulations, uses and procedures shifted and changed as the money moved from the federal government to local boards. “We’re the end of the line,” said the superintendent. “In fairness to the politicians, a lot of this is unknown to them, also.”

If stimulus money had come in for the just-ended year, it would have been added back in to the budget.

“Many people don’t realize our budget is a growing thing,” said Jerry Boland, president of the board of trustees. “We make amendments to it every month, as we get some things we didn’t anticipate we’d get or have to adjust for things we don’t get that we expected.”


Contact Pamela Hitchins at