Houston schools eye budget shortfall

By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal

HOUSTON – The Houston School District will vote on a final budget in August and with a projected shortfall, the district will either have to dip into its fund balance or increase taxes.

Trustees were handed a preliminary budget last week containing an $858,720 shortfall. The district projected revenues of $15,169,884 for the 2012-13 school year against expenditures of $16,028,604.

A final decision will be voted on by trustees at their regular meeting at the Central Office at 6:30 p.m., Aug. 13. All Houston School Board meetings are open to the public.

Board members took turns July 19 questioning Ronja Lancaster, Houston School District Finance Director, about details of the new budget.

Lancaster pointed out the State of Mississippi has cut funding for three years in a row. Houston made drastic budget cuts last year in an effort to keep from cutting teacher pay. Lancaster informed the board earlier this summer that a shortfall – or budget deficit – was probable.

Houston expects to get 64.6 percent of its revenue, or $9.72 million, from the state in 2012-13. The federal government will kick in another $2.35 million, or 15.6 percent, and local taxes will rise 19.7 percent, or $2.96 million.

The district’s largest expenditure is for instruction at $8.6 million or 53.7 percent. Support services make up 10.1 percent, at $1.63 million, and is followed by non-instruction services at $1.08 million, student transportation at $882,000, administration at $844,000, student services at $734,000, instructional staff at $725,000, general administration at $673,000 and debt service at $537,000.

Lancaster said the only major line-item expenditures planned by the district are $271,000 for air-conditioning and roofing repairs, and $40,000 for textbooks and supplies.

The district currently has a fund balance, or savings in the bank, of $3.73 million.

The district is required by law to keep a certain amount of cash in its fund balance and trustees could propose an increase in the ad valorem tax rate.

The district is currently collecting $2,328,567 or 15-percent in ad valorem taxes. For the next fiscal year, the proposed budget has a projected ad valorem revenue stream of $2,460,539 or 16-percent.

Ad valorem taxes are paid on home, automobile tags, business fixtures and equipment and rental property.

Citizens of the Houston School District are invited to attend the August regular meeting and will be allowed to speak for a reasonable length of time, either for or against a tax increase, before trustees vote.

Citizens can also contact the Houston School District and request detailed financial information from the district under the federal Freedom of Information Act.