Superintendents deciding what to cut from school budgets

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - Jan Hansen relies on the $200 she receives to buy supplies for her students, like books, computer software, and art items. But, she may be getting less money this year, after the governor ordered a five-percent cut to education.

"Unfortunately, most of it's going to have to come out of my pocket," said Hansen.

The Long Beach School District will lose about $630,000 from the state. That includes cuts to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the classroom supplies fund, and the Ad Valorem Reduction Grant.

The Harrison County School District is the hardest hit, facing more than $2.6 million in cuts.  The Pascagoula School District will receive $1.5 million less.  And the Biloxi School District will lose about $964,000.

School districts like Biloxi, Gulfport, and Pascagoula have enough money in their emergency fund balance to survive.  Others, like Long Beach, are scrambling to stay financially afloat.

"We had cut 12 teachers, 16 assistants, a central office administrator and the vocational program just to stay within our budget this year," said Long Beach School Superintendent Carrolyn Hamilton.  "And we're going to have to look and see what we can do to find $630,000."

Hamilton said she can't lay off teachers, because they're under contract.

"We have a little bit of money in fund balance," she said. "I don't know if we can take all of it out of there. I doubt it.  But we're going to have to look and see what we can do."

The superintendent said the school district is also being hit at the local level.  While the cost of food, transportation, and insurance has gone up dramatically, revenues have dropped.  And the school district can't raise property taxes, because it has already reached its cap of 55 mils.

"All we can do is we have to stay within the dollar figures that we're given and we're going to have to look and try to find a way," said Hamilton. "We feel like we're lean and trim.  We thought we have made the cuts that we had to make, so these cuts will hurt."

Hamilton said if state tax collections continue to fall, all school districts can expect to face further cuts next year.

"It makes me extremely nervous from an economic standpoint," said Hansen.  "This is our jobs and, of course, that feeds our families and allows us to live in the homes that we live in. But, at the same time, it is additional pressure on classroom teachers to perform."

Many school superintendents will spend the next few weeks figuring out how to absorb the cuts. They will present their revised budgets to their school boards for approval.

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