District attempts to cut budget

The Lamar County School District is not filling some jobs to help with upcoming budget woes, Superintendent Tess Smith said Tuesday after the Board of Trustees held a work session before the regular board meeting in Purvis.

Smith said the work session involved bringing the school board members up to speed.

“It was just an update on what we are going to do to try to cut the budget,” she said. “We were looking at everything from a fee for driver’s education to contracts and reduction days.”

Salaries are the most costly item in every school district’s budget and Smith addressed the situation.

“At this point, no one is going to lose a job,” she said. “There may be positions that we don’t fill. There have already been some positions that we didn’t fill. We’ve done a reduction in gifted classes. We’ve done a reduction in learning labs across the district and that saved us almost 20 positions. That’s where you get your money, in the staff. At this point forward, if we can make it without it, then we will try to do that.”

Lamar County officials are dealing with a significant drop in state funding because the district failed to take advantage of the High Growth Component in the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. However, Smith said she is optimistic after Tuesday’s work session.

“I feel good about what we are planning,” she said. “Of course, you are not going to make everybody happy. We’ve been told to anticipate that we had all of the cuts this year. They took almost $400,000 back from us this year, so we’ve been told to prepare for cuts as early as when we get back to school in August. It’s very hard to budget with that. We are trying to get back to where we need to be next year because you don’t want to dip into your savings.”

Smith said the school district’s financial team has been working to find the cuts.

“We’ve been cutting the fat in this district for years, so we are getting less and less fat to trim,” she said. “We don’t even think about getting fully funded through MAEP. We just hope that we get what we had last year.”

The High Growth Component in the funding formula involves a positive growth in Average Daily Attendance each year for three years before the appropriation. The percentage of average ADA growth for the three years is multiplied with the average ADA during the most recent October and November and the result is added back to the ADA for that district.

According to the school district’s FY 2016 audit, $44,957,821.78 was MAEP money, which amounted to 58.5 percent of the district’s total revenue.

According to the Mississippi Department of Education enrollment figures, Lamar County has gone from about 9,569 students in the 2013-14 school year to 9,996 in 2015-2016. However, the current enrollment is 9,831 for the 2016-17 school year, which disqualified the district from the High Growth Component.

U.S. Census Bureau figures show that Lamar County schools are underfunded in comparison to other counties its size in the nation and in surrounding states. Lamar County receives a total of $88,292,572 in federal, state and local funds, according to the Census Bureau. Similar counties nationwide receive $124,322,014, while counties in surrounding states have $103,445,960.