Wednesday, June 23, 2010
The Jackson Public Schools Board of Trustees met yesterday to address a possible $9 million budget shortfall for the upcoming school year. With lower tax collections, rising debt-service obligations and reduced state funding, the district may need to request a property tax increase from the city to fill gaps in the 2010-2011 budget.
At budget hearings Monday and Tuesday, board members weighed the district's options for reducing costs without adversely affecting students. Board members already agreed June 3 to cut four paid days from teachers' contracts and reduce paid days for other district staff by two. Superintendent Lonnie Edwards initially received a three-day cut, which the board has since raised to four days. The pay cuts will apply to non-instructional days when students are not present, district spokeswoman Peggy Hampton said.
The reductions saved JPS $1.9 million in teacher salaries alone, Executive Director for Finance Sharolyn Miller said. The district has eliminated 125 teacher positions, mostly through attrition. At yesterday's hearing, JPS Board member Otha Burton wondered whether the teachers were essential.
"If we can cut them now, are they just positions that weren't needed?" Burton asked.
Superintendent Edwards told Burton that slowly declining enrollment in the district allowed JPS to reduce its number of teachers without exceeding state-mandated student-to-teacher ratios; however, Burton and JPS Board member Ivory Phillips urged district staff to consider the possibility of adding back some of the cut teaching positions later in the school year if more money becomes available. At the request of the board, district staff are also considering whether the district could shed any administrative positions that are unfilled or will become vacant when an employee retires, Miller said yesterday.
JPS' district maintenance budget, which covers most district operations, was $217.3 million in this year. Miller is projecting a reduced district maintenance budget of $199.4 million for 2010-2011, reflecting drop in property tax collections, as well as a $6 million drop from last year's funding through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the state formula that levels funds for low-income school districts.
The shortfall comes at a difficult time for JPS. More than 100 of the district's school buses are more than 10 years old, and the district-wide telephone system is more than 20 years old. The full debt from the 2007 $150 million bond issue is also now on the district's books, bringing annual debt-service payments to roughly $2.5 million.
JPS may get some relief at the federal level, in the form of an extension of Medicaid assistance included in the 2008 economic stimulus package. An extension would free up $187 million for the state to spend on education, of which roughly $4 million would go to JPS. When Congress did not approve the extension before the end of this year's state legislative session, lawmakers passed two separate education budgets.
"We've been told that the higher of the two budgets will be funded," if Congress passes the extension, Miller said. "We don't anticipate that Congress will be able to take that up until the late fall. So we are doing as we think is prudent (and) using the lower numbers."
Miller told board members that the district would likely need to request an additional $1.06 million from the Jackson City Council as a precaution if the federal Medicaid assistance comes later in the year. The school district must submit its request for a tax increase to the council by Aug. 15, to give the city time to prepare the budget for its own 2011 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.
Miller had previously told board members that the district's request could be $2.5 million, which City Council would likely fund with a two-mil increase in property taxes. A mil represents a $1 tax per $1,000 of assessed value and generates roughly $1.142 million in revenue for the city.
District staff have since revised the number down, however, but the estimate could change again.
The board will hold a final public hearing on its budget at its June 29 meeting, after which it will adopt a final budget.