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Board agrees on tax increases, asks superintendent to cut budget

NATCHEZ — School board members agreed to ask taxpayers for up to $313,347 in additional taxes next year, while also directing Superintendent Frederick Hill to balance the district’s budget through cuts.

Board members voted Thursday during a budget work session to advertise a $12 million request in ad valorem taxes — an increase of $313,347 from the $11,686,653 the board requested this year.

The amount the district requests in taxes must be published twice in the newspaper before the board’s public hearing on July 3. Once the board advertises an amount, it can’t request more than what’s advertised but it can request less.

Board member David Troutman made a motion to advertise for $12 million, which is $305,014 less than the maximum $12,305,014.01 the board could request. The board also asked Hill to cut a minimum of $95,141 to balance the district’s budget, which included a $408,488 deficit.

Board members also encouraged Hill to cut more, if possible, to increase the district’s reserve funds and to potentially request less from taxpayers next year.

“We’ve got to have a balanced budget, but we also need to build up our fund balance, so we’re not in this position every year,” board President Wayne Barnett said.

Hill presented the board with a list of $617,537.50 in potential cuts that included reducing district travel, not filling a current vacant position at Natchez High School and cutting $33,000 from his own salary.

“We’re at the point where this does not have a direct impact on instruction, but if we go beyond this we will,” Hill said. “Do I feel comfortable with all these? No, I don’t, but I was directed to bring this forward, and that’s what I did.”

The largest cut on the list Hill presented included paying $418,946 of a $600,000 contract with federal dollars to a Chicago-based company who will soon operate the alternative school. That would leave the district only paying $181,054 with local dollars for the contract.

Cuts needed to free up those federal dollars, however, include reducing the number of parent-liaison positions in the district and reducing the number of nurses in the district, among other things.

“We have not taken anyone out of a classroom, we have not taken anyone out of curriculum or instructional support, but there are things out there that can impede on student attendance such as the nursing situation,” Hill said. “This will give us a balanced budget and more if we make all these cuts.”

Board members directed Hill to present a balanced budget including an undetermined amount of cuts at the board’s July 11 meeting.

“Let’s let him finalize the budget and bring us a final budget,” board member Thelma Newsome said. “We’ve been going around in circles with this and this will bring some closure to it.”

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.

“If we continue to get cut by the state, it will only get worse,” Hill said.

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.

The district will host a public hearing July 3 before adopting the finalized budget at the regular monthly meeting on July 11.