School district cuts $300,000 from budget

Published 12:01 am Friday, August 13, 2010

NATCHEZ — Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Anthony Morris and his staff cut $300,000 from the budget, but Morris delivered an emotional speech indicating the cuts were painful to make.

The Natchez-Adams School Board voted unanimously at Thursday’s board meeting to send a request for $11,121,570 in tax millage to the county.

Last month, Morris asked the school board to approve an $11,425,570 millage request, but the board directed him to cut $300,000 from the proposed budget.

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The millage request still reflects a $300,000 increase over last year’s budget.

Morris addressed the board and those in attendance in the Braden School boardroom about his disappointment at being forced to further trim the budget after last month’s meeting.

“I am opposed to the tremendous cuts that the board has done,” Morris said.

Morris said he addressed the board not as superintendent but as a taxpayer and a father of children who attend Natchez public schools.

“I realized I’m listening to all of the comments, and there has not been anybody to speak up for the boys and girls in the county.

“I’m trying to raise children in the 21st century and it is an extreme challenge to do that,” Morris said.

Morris said literacy rates in Adams County illustrate the challenges of the school system.

“Thirty-five percent of the adult population in Adams County cannot read.”

Morris said the fact that 95 percent of children in the school district qualify for free or reduced lunches is also a contributing factor to the district’s challenges.

Morris said he researched the cost per inmate for the country as a response to those who complain about the district’s per pupil expenditure of approximately $10,000.

“(Per inmate costs are) around $30,000, (which is) three times the amount for children,” Morris said.

“On behalf of (his sons) and the other nearly 4,000 children in Adams County, I think it is wrong to cut the budget for (an extra) $300,000 when you expect to see productive citizens,” Morris said.

Morris said filling vacancies of retired or resigned employees with inside hires was one method of accommodating budget cuts.

However, transferring staff members to different schools or buildings where they are more needed created more vacancies in their former positions, Morris said.

The recent budget cuts also affected a special education program that pairs special education pairs employers and uses school district local funding to pay the disabled student minimum wage.

Board member David Troutman said his experience as a special education teacher has allowed him to witness how wonderful the program is for disabled children.

The cuts forced the number of participants to be cut in half from more than 40 to 22.

“I guess we can’t have our cake and eat it too,” board member Benny Wright said.

After the meeting, School Board Chairman Harold Barnett said since the assessed value of a mill is less than last year’s assessment, the dollar amount requested of the county will result in asking taxpayers for more mills then the school district originally estimated.

“We’re asking for a little more than half of the request we made (in June),” Barnett said.

Barnett said the school district had to make cuts like a business would.

“When revenue starts to go down, you have to make changes,” Barnett said.

Barnett said the school board members and school administrators inevitably have to be “the bad guys.”

“We’re the ones who have to layoff people or raise taxes,” Barnett said.

In other business:

4The board deferred a motion to approve the superintendent’s recommendation for an interim human resources director until next month.

4Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture Museum Curator Darrell White addressed the board to encourage the district to take advantage of visiting the historic museum.

4School board member Benny Wright requested an estimated cost for a homecoming parade in order to present the idea to the community for possible donations.

4Representatives from Entergy and Johnson Controls, Inc., asked the board to consider employing their company to examine the district’s electricity needs.

4Morris presented superintendent awards to Business Manager Margaret Parson and juvenile detention center instructor Gwen Price-Marshall.

4Board members discussed amending the 10-point grading policy to make it flexible for teachers and principals. The board voted to reexamine the amendment for next year since school is already in session.