Next Year Could Be Even Worse For Education Funding - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

05/10/04

Next Year Could Be Even Worse For Education Funding

School superintendents across Mississippi are looking for ways to cut costs and considering tax hikes.

State lawmakers passed a school funding bill that's $45 million less than what they're working with right now and $79 million short of what was requested by the Department of Education.

The state budget approval follows months of debate, teacher protests and accusations of playing politics.

School superintendents in Gulfport and Harrison County say they'll squeeze by this year with some creative belt tightening and a loss of positions through attrition. But next year could bring a far worse crisis. School leaders worry about how local districts will pay for state mandated teacher pay raises and rising health insurance costs.

"Salad.  Salad.  Oh, that's a hard kindergarten word," said Jo Ann Blount, as she quizzed a group of five year olds.

She lays a foundation of learning for her kindergarten class at Bayou View. School funding allows her classroom the latest computers, a teacher's aid and updated supplies. The veteran teacher worries about the impact of K-through-12 cutbacks.

"Colleges need our support too. But it starts in kindergarten. K through 12 we have to have adequate funding and capable teachers and adequate materials for them to reach that college level,." said Blount.

It appears the Gulfport school district will absorb the state funding cuts without a tax hike. The superintendent says the real problem is the crisis looming next year.

"We raised taxes three mils last year and I don't think there's any sense on our board that we want to do another tax increase this year. We'll just try to squeeze by this year. Pay for what we can. Cut what we can. And hope that there's better luck at the state level next year," said school superintendent, Carlos Hicks.

The chairman of the House education committee, Rep. Randy Pierce, told WLOX News the education compromise is "about as good as we could have gotten." Pierce says the smallest, poorest school districts, primarily in the delta, will likely suffer the most under this year's school budget.

Superintendent Henry Arledge says the Harrison County district will likely eliminate 30 to 35 positions through attrition.

"It might be positions lost. But it won't be jobs lost. We already have enough people retiring that will take care of positions. We'll just not fill those positions, where we can," Arledge explained.

Superintendent Arledge says it's too early to tell if a tax increase might be needed to cover this year's budget.

By Steve Phillips

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