NASD defends proposed budget

Published 12:07 am Friday, July 6, 2012

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Armando Ricci, right, discusses the proposed budget for the Natchez-Adams County school district for the upcoming school year Thursday afternoon.

NATCHEZ — The Natchez-Adams County School District’s board of trustees defended its proposed $10,858-per-pupil budget Thursday with the argument that money can’t fix everything, but money is needed to make repairs when something is broken.

The school board’s public hearing for its proposed $39,822,109 budget for fiscal year 2013 was Thursday. The budget was reduced by approximately $1.2 million from the previous budget, NASD Business Manager Margaret Parsons said.

The proposed budget also has a request for an increase in ad valorem funding, which is generated by taxes on homes, automobile tags, business equipment and rental property.

Email newsletter signup

When audience member Armando Ricci asked if enrollment in the school district had increased or declined, Parsons said current trends show the district losing approximately 100 students a year. That response drew a question from observer Lou Ellen Stout, who asked why the school district would be increasing taxes if enrollment was declining.

President Wayne Barnett said the budget has actually decreased 4 percent, but the district’s funding from outside sources has also been cut.

“Over the last nine years the state has cut the district a total of $11 million,” Barnett said. “What the school district is trying to do is maintain the same level of services without making cuts, so we are asking for more money from the local sources. We are asking for about a half million (dollars) more from the local government, because we are receiving about $2 million less from the federal and state government.”

Even though some spending can be cut, other expenses — such as teachers’ salaries and raises — are set by the state, board member Thelma Newsome said.

“We have politicians, they go all the way up to Washington, D.C., they come all the way down to Natchez — saying ‘no taxes, no taxes,’” Barnett said.

“What they do in Washington — and in Jackson — they pass laws which are unfunded mandates. They tell us what we have to do, but they don’t raise the taxes. They put that off on the local people to raise the taxes.”

But the problem is that the school district has put off maintenance on some properties because they didn’t want to raise taxes for so long that some things can no longer be avoided, Barnett said.

But properly maintaining public education is key to having a great country, he said.

“This nation is what it is today because of public education,” Barnett said.

“Public education is the reason we still are free, and we still speak English in the United States. If it wasn’t for public education, somebody else would be calling the shots.”

Board member Tim Blalock compared fixing the school district’s underperformance to renovating a house. Sometimes that involves spending some money, he said.

“I wish I could just wave a wand and everything would be fixed, but that’s not how it works,” Blalock said.

But fixing the educational system is a priority, and a key to having a functioning society, he said.

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — School board president Wayne Barnett talks about the presented budget for the 2012-2013 school year for the Natchez-Adams County School District Thursday afternoon during a school board meeting.

“In this country, every person who is not a convicted felon gets to vote, not just those who go to private schools,” Blalock said. “If we don’t educate everybody, the mass idiots will be making mass idiotic decisions.”

Adams County resident Gene Simonton asked the board members why the district doesn’t sell its unused or vacant properties, and Barnett said that is a decision the board would have to make in light of whether it was in the best interest of the district or not.

“I don’t want to see you raise this tax (when) we are in an economical depression,” Simonton said. “I know a lot of tired, elderly people who struggle to pay their taxes. It is thoroughly ridiculous. We need to sell some property.”

Simonton likewise asked why the school district has as many assistant administrative positions as it does, noting that when he was in school, he only had one principal.

“We had a different society that you and I lived in when we went to school,” Barnett said.

When Stout asked if the ongoing reorganization of the school district into neighborhood schools was having a positive impact on the budget, Parsons said it “absolutely” was.

“There have been a lot of positions that, as a person retired or resigned, those positions were not filled,” Parsons said. “I think we will see a lot more of that as the year goes on.”

Barnett said he acknowledged that money is not the answer, and that, if the NASD were given a letter grade rating, it would probably receive a D+.

“I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t happy when I took a D+ home,” he said.

“I won’t be satisfied until the rankings are As. I will be satisfied when the NASD gets a ranking that says we are ranked at an A level, not a B.

“People are the answer. Proper support, which may include money, includes good quality teachers, good quality administrators, good quality parents and good quality students. The only way we can get that all is to work together and realize that we are all in this together. If the ship sinks, we all sink.”

Though it did not directly address the budget, observer Lekeshia Jones asked the board a question that made them widen their eyes in surprise when she asked, “Are you aware the (new) assistant superintendent’s educational license is expired?”

The board voted Tuesday to hire Tanisha Smith as assistant superintendent at the recommendation of new Superintendent Frederick Hill. Hill and Smith worked together in the Tupelo Public School District.

Barnett said the board would look into the issue, but that the hire was ultimately made on the superintendent’s recommendation.

“The superintendent will be ultimately responsible for every person hired in this district,” board member Benny Wright said. “We have set a precedent for a superintendent who does not produce.

“We will personally hold him responsible for every person he hires.”

The consideration and adoption of the budget is on the agenda for the school board’s July 12 meeting. The adoption of the ad valorem request is on the agenda for the board’s Aug. 9 meeting.