State law forces NASD budget deficit increase; school board weighs tax increase

Published 12:32am Friday, June 14, 2013

NATCHEZ — State law will prohibit the Natchez-Adams School District from cutting more than $400,000 from its budget in the manner administrators had planned; so the district may soon turn to taxpayers for an even higher tax hike.

The district’s budget deficit — recently whittled to $60,675 — increased to $408,488 Thursday after district officials were told they could not furlough employees.

The district was previously considering a three-day unpaid leave for all district employees, including administrators, which would have saved an additional $300,763 added on to $550,468 in other cuts district officials identified.

Superintendent Frederick Hill told school board members Thursday that the unpaid leave option was no longer on the table because of a deadline in state legislation they thought was still active.

State legislation passed in 2011 allowed school districts to furlough teachers three of their required seven days of staff development, Hill said.

Board attorney Bruce Kuehnle said that legislation was repealed as of July 1, 2012.

“So (the state) cut our budget and then tells us we can’t cut our teachers?” board member Tim Blalock asked.

The inability of the district to implement the three-day unpaid leave, along with a $47,050 unemployment expense that was previously not budgeted, brought the district’s total budget deficit to $408,488.

“I do have some additional items about some possible cuts, but we’re bare bone where we’re at now,” Hill said. “Any cut that we make now is going to hurt, so we can’t say, ‘Why me?’ or ‘Can we get it from another department?’

“Any cuts we make, we’re taking away something.”

Business Manager Margaret Parson presented the school board with a revised budget proposal that included a projection of the amount the district can request from the taxpayers of Adams County.

Parson estimated that the district could receive approximately $510,708 in additional funding by requesting additional mills.

The request would bring the district’s total mills to 54.73, which is .27 away from the state limit of 55 mills.

Board President Wayne Barnett said he was concerned with requesting additional funding this year, which could result in the district not being able to request funds next year.

“If the value of a mill stays the same and we ask for the same (next year), we’re right at the limit,” Barnett said. “We don’t want to raise taxes and ask the taxpayers for more money, but there’s only so many people and programs we can cut.”

Last year the district asked taxpayers for an additional $565,000 because of a decrease in state funding.

This year, the state will provide the district with $15,080,189 — a $330,057 decrease from what the state gave the district last year.

The depletion of the district’s 16th Section land interest fund and the continued reduction in state funding forced district officials to begin cutting from its budget.

The district previously identified nearly $1 million in cuts to anticipated expenses across various departments, which included choosing not to purchase a new edition of textbooks for the upcoming school year and cutting 12 special education teacher assistant positions, among other things.

The district remained $911,906 over budget after the $1 million in cuts and identified an additional $550,468 in cuts, which included a two-day unpaid leave for all administrators at Braden Administrative building, among other things.

Barnett said the school board would meet sometime next week for a budget work session to decide whether the district would cut more from its budget to replenish the $408,488 deficit, or if the board would ask for a tax increase.

The decision must be made before the district’s public hearing July 3. The budget will be adopted at the board’s regular monthly meeting on July 11.