School budgets tangled in delays

The state budget holdup in Jackson is making summer vacation difficult for Northeast Mississippi school districts.
“State law says the budget has to be approved by Aug. 15, and we usually like to get ours done early,” said Tishomingo County Superintendent Malcolm Kuykendall. “This is just really a strain on us.”
Lack of a budget in Jackson means uncertainty for schools.
“When they wait this late, you can’t plan anything,” said New Albany Superintendent Charles Garrett. “We’re being careful. Can we buy a bus? Can we not? Anything that costs money you just have to be careful.”
For some districts, the budget delay means that teacher’s don’t have contracts yet for the 2009-2010 school year. Tupelo, Monroe County and Tishomingo County schools are among the districts that have not issued teacher contracts yet.
Monroe County teachers have been patient and understanding about the district’s need to wait for contracts to go out, said Superintendent Scott Cantrell, who anticipates rehiring all his teachers.
“What scares me is we could start losing quality teachers. We don’t have them protected,” Cantrell said. Still, he feels he has to be very careful with the district’s finances in the uncertain fiscal environment.
Contracts held
Tupelo Public School District has opted to hold off on contracts, especially since the state supplement for National Board Certified Teachers is one item potentially on the state budget chopping block.
Out of more than 500 certified staff members, some 120 Tupelo teachers qualify for the supplement, McCoy said.
“I want to know what the starting point is before I make concrete commitments in our budget,” McCoy said.
There’s also the question whether the Legislature will backtrack from the second step of a salary schedule for teachers who have served between 25 and 35 years.
Lee County and New Albany Schools are among those who have moved forward with teacher contracts.
“We’ve issued contracts for all teachers, but you might have a position or two open that” will have to wait, Garrett said.
Lee County Schools committed to national board supplements and the increases for 25-to-35-year teachers in its contracts.
“If it has to come out of our local monies, we’re going to make sure they get their money,” said Lee County Superintendent Mike Scott.
Lee County Schools are using the budgets advocated by Gov. Haley Barbour, which would cut the district by about $600,000.
“There are some schools where we would have liked to add teacher positions because of the number of students … but we’re not able to do that this year,” Scott said.

Ginny Miller and Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal