Funding shortfall forces OS School District to make tough financial decisions

Funding shortfall forces OS School District to make tough financial decisions
Oak Park Elementary School (Photo source: WLOX)
Oak Park Elementary School (Photo source: WLOX)

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Some popular programs may be in jeopardy and certain vacancies may not be filled. That's what the Ocean Springs School District is facing due to another shortfall in state funding.

Next month, Superintendent Dr. Bonita Coleman-Potter will present next year's budget proposal to the school board. She said once again, the district is not even close to receiving full funding through MAEP. So, she's forced to make some tough financial decisions.

Next year, all elementary students in the Ocean Springs School District will ride the bus at the same time. The district plans to consolidate those students' bus routes from three to two. The reason for the change is another shortfall in state funding.

"We're looking at 8.1 percent next year, which equates into $2.3 million. With $2.3 million, of course, that is a significant reduction," said Coleman-Potter.

"I'm shocked. I'm shocked every year when I hear the figure of how much we're shorted," said Ocean Springs parent Robin Boswell.

Boswell is worried the MAEP funding deficit will lead to larger class sizes for her son.

"My third grader is in a class of 26, and his teacher has told me that this has never happened before. They've always had about 20 to 21," said Boswell.

She also expressed concern about losing programs like Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, which her daughter is taking at the high school.

"And to lose that program is just such a shame, especially when our community is all in, paying our taxes," said Boswell.

The district can't raise any more taxes, because it has reached its 55-mill cap. Plus, it doesn't have gaming or industry to generate more revenue.

"For the last two years, we've had to cut staff through attrition. We're looking at that process again. We will have to increase class size again," said Coleman-Potter.

Programs, like aquaculture, could be in jeopardy, because they rely on grants. Boswell wonders why state lawmakers won't fully fund education when there is money available.

"I feel confused, and I feel really disappointed. I just feel let down, let down as a Mississippi taxpayer. We're paying our taxes, and they're holding those state taxes and not giving them to our schools like the law asks them to do," said Boswell.

"With us seeing additional money coming in, in terms of projections with sales tax and that money not going into MAEP so that we can be fully funded, or at least close to full funding, it is a very unfortunate situation for our teachers and for our students, because they deserve and they demand so much more than we can actually provide," said Coleman-Potter. "I'm hopeful, at some point, that the legislature, if they are not willing to fund the model as it currently works, and we continue to say the model is broken, then let's fix the model. Let's fix the funding formula, but don't continue to starve our schools."

The Ocean Springs School Board must adopt a budget by June 31.

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