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State budget leaves schools underfunded

April 25, 2011

By SHEA STASKOWSKI
sdnedu@bellsouth.net

Both the Oktibbeha County School District and the Starkville School District are facing large deficits in the 2011–2012 budget.
The SSD Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) allocation will be underfunded by more than $1.9 million, which is about $317,300 less than last year.
On April 8, the Mississippi Legislature passed a budget of $16,368,297 for the SSD, which includes every add-on program in the district.
While facing cuts, the districts are optimistic because of the educational jobs fund allocation they received last year from Congress. Gov. Haley Barbour made the money available to districts last year in the face of budget cuts, but warned that the 2011–2012 budget is on track to be the most underfunded they had seen, and that saving the money could prove beneficial.
“We took what they said very seriously,” Assistant Supt. Beth Sewell said regarding the saving of the allocation.
The SSD received $750,000 from the educational jobs fund allocation last year and they have saved for this year as they had already established a budget last school year by the time the extra money came along.
Though it is underfunded, the district is fairing slightly better than last year thanks to the savings of the governor’s allocation, and administrators have already been holding meetings to come up with solutions to the shrinking budget.
“We’ve already met with Rob [Logan, comptroller] as a team to see what our needs are,” Sewell said. “We’re trying to be very conservative.”
“We’re looking at teacher units, programs and maintenance issues,” Assistant Supt. Walter Gonsoulin added.
Sewell added that by programs, the district means software and consumables, not educational programs.
Though underfunded by almost half a million dollars, the Oktibbeha County School District’s MAEP allocation is $68,100 more than last year. Supt. James Covington attributes the budget increase to increased student enrollment.
Though the budget is more than last year, the increased enrollment poses another problem to the district.
“Class sizes are larger than we’ve seen in the last 10 years,” Covington said. “And though we’re still in line with the state laws on the teacher, student ratio, it just makes it a little harder on the teachers to have that many students in a class.”
With the extra funds, Covington is hoping to reduce the teacher to student ratio from one to 30 to one to 20, “which will improve learning,” he said.
Gas prices are another factor affecting the district. Being a county school district, students are spread out over a much larger area than students inside of a city, which is costing the district thousands more a month than they planned for.
“If we can’t reduce the teacher, pupil ratio, we might see about off-setting the fuel costs,” Covington said. “The board has also been talking about updating our bus fleet.”
Covington assures that the visual arts programs and athletic programs will remain, even with a budget of $3.975,831.
“I would love to see the performing arts in our schools, but we simply cannot afford those kinds of programs with being half a million underfunded,” Covington said. “What looks like an increase, we still have less really to do what more because we’re still underfunded.”

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