School board not asking for tax increase

By PAT BROWN,

While the figures are still in the preliminary stages, it appears that the Simpson County School Board will not ask for an increase in taxes to fund their $34 million budget for the 2017-2018 school year.  
This is despite some funding challenges outlined by Duane Fewell, director of finance for the school district.  The biggest is the $655,269 reduction in funding from the state for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program for the next budget year.  
Federal Title One funding to the district is being reduced by $300,000 to $400,000, and the district is losing a physical education grant in excess of $550,000.  An estimate for the total reduction of Title Two Funds is $60,000  
In addition, the cost of property  insurance and liability insurance has increased for the past two years.  
The good news, according to Fewell, is that the current budget will not require an increase in ad valorem tax.  His report indicated that the district was able to absorb last year’s cuts to MAEP in the amount of $152,965.  
The budget does not reflect the cost of purchase of two new buses.  
Construction of the new Magee Elementary School as well as building projects in Mendenhall are accounted for in this school year’s budget with some minor exceptions so there will be very little of that expense associated with the new budget year.  
At present the proposed budget lists $18 million to be spent for instructional services with $12 million in support services.  
Some cuts are included in the existing budgets, which include reduction in library services at Magee High and Mendenhall Elementary because the student population of each school has dropped below 500.  
It was suggested that if principals at those locations wanted to staff the library with other staff options that is a possibility rather than limiting library services because of budget reductions.  
Personnel director Elizabeth Christian reported the student population has dropped to approximately 3,600.  She said that figure had been at 4,200 a few years ago.  
 MAEP funding has dropped for two reasons,  the decrease in student enrollment plus the level on which the State has made allocations.  In  2016, MAEP funding was at its highest level over a five-year period at $17,829,479 compared to the current level of $16,802,873.   
Fewell reported the following reductions: elimination of two positions in administrative offices,  one by being cut and one by funding with grants; elimination of one assistant principal and eight teaching positions, based on declining enrollment;  the reduction in the library position; and the program of Jobs for Mississippi Graduates Program.  
Of the total budget, 54 percent goes toward classroom instruction and 36 percent goes to other support services.  The remainder of the budget goes to other budgets required by the district.  
Another item that Fewell pointed out to the board is a reduced funding amount from Mississippi Hub, since that company has reached their investment level of $100 million for a fee in lieu of taxes program.  It was also noted that raises were not given, citing MAEP funding reductions as the reason.  The exception was in raises that had been previously approved.