VWSD looks to eliminate budget deficit

Published 11:12 am Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Increasing revenue dominated a large portion of a special called meeting of the Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees Monday afternoon.

The board heard a presentation from Warren Greenlee, an attorney with the Young Law Group in Jackson that specializes in public and bond finance law.

During last month’s meeting with the board, Greenlee was tasked with finding ways to improve the district’s finances and revenue stream.

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After elaborating broadly on ways to increase revenue, Greenlee made direct suggestions for the district that would not raise taxes substantially for an individual but would prevent the district from running a deficit for the first time in three years.

Predictions at the beginning of the school year showed the district running a nearly $7 million deficit, with revenue estimated at about $55 million and expenditures at $62 million. That deficit for the year has been reduced to about $1 million through attrition and other cuts.

Greenlee noted that a millage increase of 1.34 mills, would raise nearly $1 million yearly for the school district.

The district is currently legally able to increase the rate by 0.34 mills as part of its 2010 General Obligation Bond without requesting a public hearing.

“You’re currently not levying those mills,” he said of the 0.34 mills, which would raise about $187,500 for the district annually.

“Currently you’ve been paying this out of the operating budget instead of levying it,” he said.

Board President Bryan Pratt, who also represents District 1, asked Greenlee if a 1.34 mill increase would equate to about a $20 increase on property taxes for someone who owned a $100,000 home and $15,000 car.

“Right, it would come out to about five cents per day,” Greenlee responded.

Greenlee pointed to Madison County Public School District and Clinton Public Schools as examples of levying for building expenses that also freed up portions of the operating budget.

“If your not doing the levying local tax part of it and using your MAEP and operations tax levy to do capital improvements, you’re taking away money intended for educating kids,” he said.

He noted that both Madison and Clinton schools currently levy nearly 70 mills compared to the VWSD’s 47.81 mills.

Both districts are also paying for one-to-one technology initiatives — putting a small laptop computer or tablet in every student’s hands — with tax increases. The one-to-one initiatives aim to lower long-term textbook costs by purchasing them digitally.

Public school districts in Mississippi may request up to 55 mills annually for operating expenses. That limit does not apply to taxes levied for capital improvements, such as building renovations and construction.

Districts traditionally request a certain amount of money from the county governments, who then levy the necessary mills to meet that figure.

“Evidently, these other districts are borrowing money to improve their infrastructure,” Pratt said. “All have debt service mills assessed, whereas for the last five years, we have none.”

Despite requesting level funding in 2013, the district’s rate increased 0.4 mills during the last fiscal year due to a drop in assessed property value in Warren County.

Shealy praised the board’s fiscal responsibility in keeping taxes low, but said they are often forced to choose between buying educational material or deferring building maintenance.

“They’ve been incredibly fiscally responsible, but we’re using our general funds to pay for improvements. Money that would be available for textbooks is being used for buildings,” he said.

A tax calculator presented by Greenlee showed that levying 3 additional mills would cost about $43.50 in additional property taxes for someone who owned a $100,000 house and $15,000.

The district will hold a public hearing on the budget June 19 at 5:30 p.m. at the central office, 1500 Mission 66.

The district also approved the hiring of Amy Deason to serve as director of special education. Deason, a 16-year special education director previously held the same position with the Natchez-Adams School District.