OPINION: Next year's funding picture looks ugly

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Think the money has been tight for Mississippi’s public schools this year, when the state has reduced its funding by 8.2 percent from the amount it promised at the beginning of the academic year?
You ain’t seen nothing yet.
Superintendents of the state’s kindergarten to 12th-grade school districts were recently warned that next year’s state funding may be a 12- to 15-percent reduction from what it was when this school year began.
“I wish I had better news to tell you,” Tupelo Public School District Superintendent Randy Shaver said during a recent conversation about next year’s budget.
For both Tupelo and Lee County Schools, the reduced state funding will likely total more than $4 million. It’s not going to be easy to plug that hole.
Shaver said he is reviewing his district’s Reduction In Force policy to prepare for the likely necessity of cutting jobs, a step many districts will likely have to take.
Most districts have already implemented hiring freezes and said they won’t replace most staff that either retire or leave. Shaver said his district will only replace classroom teachers in tested subject areas and principals.
The upshot is that this will probably be the most difficult year for new graduates with education degrees to find jobs. It wasn’t long ago that education was touted as one of the most stable career fields during this recession.
Those cuts will impact more than teachers or the students who will now sit in larger classrooms. It will also affect people like Chris Traylor, who runs C.J. Janitorial Service, which Lee County Schools currently contracts out to clean its schools.
In the district’s efforts to not cut any staff next year, business manager Randy Thweatt said it will not be able to contract with custodial services like Traylor’s.
Traylor admits that the loss of business will be temendous during a time when it’s difficult to pick up new contracts. But he isn’t complaining.
“It is not about the problem,” said Traylor, also the pastor of Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Corinth. “We need to understand it is a problem but you have to be spiritual in a situation like this. If we just focus on the problem, we never get to the promise we have.”
Traylor said crews of at least five employees currently spend 4.5 to five hours on each campus a night doing things like stripping and waxing floors, picking up garbage and cleaning doors and windows.
Replacing that won’t be an easy task.
“They realize that, but due to this crisis, there is no other alternative for them to do,” Traylor said.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at chris.kieffer@djournal.com.