School budget to lose $90.9M statewide

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 17, 2009

NATCHEZ — In July the Natchez-Adams School District finalized its 2008-2009 budgets, but as early as next month the budget could be slashed.

Earlier this week, Gov. Haley Barbour announced declining state tax collections would force budget cuts for the 2009 fiscal year.

And when those cuts — $200 million in total — go into effect, school districts across the state will lose funding.

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Public schools across the state will lose $90.9 million of the $200 million to be trimmed from the state’s budget.

On Wednesday, the Mississippi Department of Education’s State Superintendent Hank Bounds said the department was still trying to determine exactly how much funding each district would lose.

And since no one is exactly sure how much each district will lose, district administrators are having a difficult time planning for the pending losses.

Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Anthony Morris said until Bounds receives specifics on the amount to be cut, Adams County has no way to tell how much they stand to lose.

“It’s a fairly unique situation. We’ve never been cut this much,” Morris said of the $90.9 million.

Not only do districts across the state not know how much they’ll be losing, they also don’t know when the loss will be coming.

Caron Blanton, MDE’s director of communications, said the state sends its funding to each district on the 15th of each month.

Blanton said since January’s payment’s have already been processed, it’s possible February’s allotment may be reduced.

“It won’t stop coming,” Blanton said. “But it will be less.”

Margaret Parson, the district’s business manager, said without knowing how much the local budget will be cut, she can’t plan the district’s 2010 budget.

“There’s not a lot we can do with out knowing what’s going to be cut,” Parson said.

Assistant Superintendent Morris Stanton said the uncertainty of the cuts is worrisome.

“We don’t know,” he said. “Anytime you talk about cuts in a school year it’s a concern.”

Parson said in October, when she heard the first mention of cuts, it was believed that most districts would lose 2 to 5 percent of their budget.

The local district currently gets approximately $17.4 million in state funding, 5 percent of that would be more than $800,000.

Stanton said the district hasn’t yet taken a look at their current budget to see where the lack of funding would best be absorbed.

And the district already has millions of dollars in financial obligations that can’t be trimmed.

Parson said bussing and utilities alone cost the district $1 million a year each.

“You just have to stop (buying) everything you can,” she said. “But we won’t know until we have the numbers. We don’t have a choice in the matter.”