Recent education budget cuts handed down by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour have led many parents to wonder: "How will this affect the education of my child?" Both parents and taxpayers do not really need to be concerned, according to both McComb School District (MSD) Finance Director Cathy Jones and Superintendent Therese Palmertree. Jones said MSD is "well in the black" financially. Palmertree emphasized that the district will not cut items that directly affect the quality of education for the students. Changes to the budget would include such things as the possible non-renewal of certain "non-essential" positions, reduction in travel, and greater fuel conservation.
MSD Superintendent Therese Palmertree, left, with Finance Director Cathy Jones
In order to compensate for a state revenue shortfall, Governor Barbour cut expenditures to state agencies by about $158,000,000. Of that amount, reductions of state monies to public elementary and secondary schools totaled about $85,000,000, the majority of which included cuts in the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). MAEP is "the state formula used to establish adequate current operation funding levels necessary for the programs of each school district to meet a successful level of student performance as established by the State Board of Education using current statistically relevant state assessment data."
Based on a memo from Wanda Cummins, Director of the Office of School Financial Services, Mississippi Department of Education, the MAEP reduction amount for MSD is $425,486.00, leaving $12,765,890.00 in MAEP funds for the district. This is about a 3.23% reduction for fiscal year 2009. The 2009 fiscal year runs from July 2008 to June 2009.
The first area of possible reduced spending is that of positions, whether teaching or clerical, that could be considered non-essential to the instructional process. When asked whether teacher positions would be affected by the budget cuts, Jones said, "We are looking at each position--if someone leaves--whether or not we'll fill it. We'll leave positions open as we can. But it will certainly be on a case-by-case basis." Palmertree added, "We have what we call a RIF policy (Reduction in Force), and we are making every effort not to have to utilize that board-approved policy. So instead of doing that, we have chosen to go the route of looking at those who are leaving and looking at those positions on an individual basis, as to whether it is an essential position that directly impacts children. What we're trying to do is for those positions and programs that directly impact the quality of the educational experience for children, we're trying to leave those alone. And by that we mean the teachers and assistant teachers, extracurricular activities, and sports, because we believe all of those are positives that directly impact children."
As far as vocational courses, Jones said that is strictly state-funded, and she does not anticipate any reductions in spending in this area. Palmertree added, "As a matter of fact, we're actually strengthening the vocational programs, because we are a pilot site for the high school re-design through a grant that involves strengthening those programs." Jones said the vocational curriculum has been updated for today's world of work, and the state has recently "pumped in hundreds of thousands of dollars" into Mississippi's vocational programs.
National Board Certified Teachers receive salary supplements of $6,000 to recognize them for their rigorous training to become board-certified. Although the program received 5% ($300.00) cuts per person in their supplements, MSD is absorbing the cuts so that the teachers can still be paid the full amount of their supplements.
There will not be any spending reductions in instructional supplies, as textbooks and other supplies were already purchased at the beginning of the year. "A lot of those are accreditation requirements, and we're certainly going to meet all those standards," Jones said.
The second area that will be reduced is travel. "We're going to look at prioritizing travel, and if it's travel that's essential to the quality of teaching and learning . . . we're going to approve that," Palmertree said. On the other hand, an example of possible restricted travel would be in athletics; travel to tournaments outside the conference will be curtailed.
The third area of reduced spending is utilities. The district has already begun reducing its heating and cooling expenses. Each of the principals is working on an energy conservation plan, and reasonable measures are being taken to adjust thermostats to save money.
Although some districts in the state are facing dire consequences with the budget cuts, MSD is not one of them. Jones said, "We have held a fairly conservative budget. We monitor it quite closely-every transaction is scrutinized here, and our budget is strictly followed. We've had perfect audits for the past twelve years."