CHRIS KIEFFER: Budgets force superintendents to modify district plans

Before the last school year, the Lee County School District introduced Advanced Placement courses at all three of its high schools.
The plan was to expand the course offerings and make even more available this year. Then came a little budget crisis.
“We’ve been able to add AP classes at each of our three high schools, and my goal was to have even more at this time,” Scott said. “Those are things you can’t even think about. We’re more concerned with keeping what we have and keeping teachers we have employed.
“There are so many things we’d like to do for our students if we had the money to do it.”
Scott, who began as Lee County’s superintendent in 2008, is among many district leaders who have had to curtail big plans because of the bad economy.
With state tax collections continuing to come in below projections, schools have seen their state funding get cut by 5 percent in the spring of 2009 and by more than 8 percent during the past school year.
They will enter the 2010-11 school year with about 8 percent less state funding than they were promised a year ago and with caution that they could face more mid-year reductions.
Having to do more with less is frustrating for any school leader. It also can take a toll on new superintendents, who come to campus with big ideas they would like to implement, only to be thwarted by bad budgets.
Superintendents Randy Shaver of Tupelo, Gearl Loden of Amory and Russell Taylor of Nettleton all completed their first year at the helm of those districts.
They spoke last week about how they’ve had to adjust plans beause of the bad economy.
Each of them said they are lucky to have inherited districts that were in good financial shape, but that they have had to make some adjustments.
Shaver said he initially wanted to roll out his district’s new technology plan all at once – giving computers to all sixth- to 12th-grade students, adding appropriate technology in all kindergarten to fifth-grade schools and providing more handheld learning devices, like iPods.
Because of the economy, they will begin with the laptops this year and delay the other technology for future years.
Taylor said it has been a difficult first year, having to make so many cuts.
“I’m fortunate to have been in Nettleton seven years prior and that helped me to have intimate knowledge of the district,” he said.
Shaver, who was a superintendent in North Carolina before coming to Tupelo, said he’s learned that dealing with limited budgets is just part of educational leadership.
“In all my years in education, I’ve only had one good budget year,” Shaver said. “There has never been a budget year that was not challenging and there never will be.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kiefer@djournal.com.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal