School districts consider trimming programs, possibly personnel

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - Cigarettes could help save Mississippi schools. On Wednesday, the state House Appropriations Committee voted to use money generated by a proposed tobacco tax to restore $68 million to public education. The move comes as superintendents across the state met in Jackson to find ways to cope with the latest round of budget cuts.

Bay High teacher Stephanie Necaise believes programs like drama and journalism give students a creative outlet and a well-rounded education.

"The arts contain reading, writing, arithmetic, history. And anything that you do in another traditional class pertains to the arts," Necaise said.

But the governor recently ordered nearly $88 million in cuts to public education.  Most of that money will come from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. School districts in south Mississippi could lose from $200,000 in Pass Christian to as much as $1.8 million in Harrison County.

The Bay-Waveland School District expects to lose about $240,000 in funding this year. That means drama, art, music, gifted and vocational classes at Bay High may not get enough money to buy supplies, equipment, and books.

"We're very concerned," said Bay High Principal Dr. Andy Parker. "And for a school district that's small, how that could be so detrimental to the programs that we offer. Initially I thought, 'What's going to give?'"

What could also go are certain positions like custodians and teacher assistants, and the district could put the brakes on out-of-town games and competitions.

"Just the thought of not being able to travel to competitions hurts," said Necaise.

The Bay-Waveland superintendent says the budget cuts could also hurt the district's efforts to recover from Katrina. Some schools are still in trailers and the district is in the process of building two new elementary schools. If the district ends up dipping into its reserves, that would mean less money for rebuilding projects.

"We can eat in the cafeteria, but we are not able to cook food there.  So our food is being satellited from the middle school," said Parker.  "So if we have to dip into the reserves, those projects obviously are going to be impacted."

School leaders understand times are tough, but all this belt-tightening isn't easy.

"We'll find an answer," said Parker. "We just want to make sure we don't have to cut things that are really crucial to providing quality education for our students."

Several school superintendents who met with the state Superintendent of Education on Wednesday said Dr. Hank Bounds warned them to expect things to get worse next school year. And he told them, if necessary, trim extra-curricular activities, but don't hurt any academic programs.