Schools board considers how to cut $911,000 out of budget

Published 12:06 am Friday, May 24, 2013

NATCHEZ — The Natchez-Adams School Board identified Thursday nearly $400,000 in expense cuts and asked the superintendent to find the remaining $500,000 needed to balance the district’s budget.

The additional cuts, board members suggested, could possibly come from a 5-percent cut of all non-mandated expenses across the district including athletics, travel and administrative salaries.

“This is the hard part — finding out where we’re going to cut from,” Superintendent Frederick Hill said. “The bottom line is we have to make decisions to cut some things and it’s going to be hard, but it’s either that or raise taxes, and I don’t even want to touch that until we’ve looked at every dollar we can cut.

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“It’s going to be ugly either way.”

The board met Thursday for its third budget work session to begin analyzing areas that need to be cut in order to balance the additional $911,906 in the district’s budget.

Those cuts come after the district already cut $1 million in anticipated expenses including textbooks, software and special education teacher assistants.

Business Manager Margaret Parson presented the board with an estimated budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which included $28,425,433 in district expenses.

The district will receive $27,513,527 in revenues, which is $930,321 less than it received in 2013.

Of that, the district will receive

$330,057 less in state dollars than it did last year.The district will also not receive any funds from its 16th section interest funds, which provided $166,097 in 2013.

The district has spent $7.3 million of those funds since 2001, and Parson said she is not including any of those funds in the proposed budget.

“It’s gone,” Parson told board members. “I’m not saying that it won’t gain interest later, but we need to have a budget balanced without that.”

As Parson discussed each line item on the proposed budget, board members began chiming in on areas they felt could be cut.

Approximately $100,000 was identified in cuts to salaries for substitute teachers who fill in for full-time teachers who also have a teaching assistant.

“I know the assistants might complain, but it’s my understanding that when a substitute goes in they basically go in and just sit there or do whatever the assistant needs to get done,” board member Thelma Newsome said.

Another $150,000 in savings was identified by outsourcing the Central Alternative School to a Chicago-based company.

Ombudsman Educational Services would partner with the district to operate their program within the school. It would hire it’s own faculty and staff and provide all technological and learning materials.

In turn, the district would pay for utilities to the building as well as provide one custodian position.

The board tabled a decision to approve the contract until the board attorney had thoroughly reviewed the contract.

Other savings identified included leaving vacant several open coaching jobs.

Parson said another $100,000 in savings could come from benefits that are in the budget, but some employees might not utilize.

“I know with benefits that everyone is not going to take the state insurance, so I know we’re going to save some money there,” Parson said. “I know there is some there, but it’s a rough estimate.”

After Parson discussed each line item on the proposed budget, board member Tim Blalock asked if there was a logical way to cut the necessary amount without affecting educational opportunities.

“Say we cut everything we can possibly cut, does that get us down to $900,000 or is this a fool’s game?” Blalock said. “Even if we cut all these things, and we’re not even a quarter of the way through, is this a fool’s game?”

Hill suggested the board consider an across the board cut, apart from the other areas identified, to make up the difference.

Those cuts would come from non-mandated expenses ranging from supplies to salaries.

“We could look at a percentage that we want cut and make that cut across the board to reduce all those other non-mandated expenses,” Hill said. “The first thing we need to do is go through and tag those things we can reduce and then factor in a 3 or 5-percent cut.”

Board member David Troutman made a motion asking that Hill create another budget proposal that included the potential areas to reduce and the 5-percent across-the-board cut.

“We could sit here forever nitpicking line items, but we’ve given some directions, and places we’re concerned about,” Troutman said. “We would like (Hill) to use the information looking at a 5-percent cut across the board and rework the budget and come back with final budget proposals.”

The board is scheduled to meet again May 30 to review the proposals.