EDITORIAL: Painful recovery

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Alcorn County Public School District’s systematic and austere recovery from a precarious funding situation illustrates how necessity drives painful but productive decisions involving public spending.
The district almost three years ago found itself in a virtual deficit situation – $420,000 short of the budget and near insolvency.
School officials, including elected Superintendent Stacy Suggs, and elected trustees, set a course that included hiring a school finances expert consultant, strategic borrowing to meet payroll and pay bills, and painful decisions about termination of some personnel and leaving unfilled the vacancies created by attrition.
The district’s stress has been compounded by state funding cuts, proposed by Gov. Barbour and approved by the Legislature in response to state revenue shortfalls.
Now, however, the Alcorn district has rebuilt a 7 percent reserve, and it is aiming for the state-preferred 10-to-15 percent.
At the same time, despite cuts and efficiencies, the district has done what is required in taxation, raising taxes by the maximum 4 percent, a situation that cuts the legs off any legislative or gubernatorial claim that the Alcorn school budget has been balanced without tax increases.
Personnel also have been placed under three required, unpaid furlough days during the 2010 fiscal year, which saves the district money but cuts into personal income.
Furloughs have been used increasingly by a wide sector of employers, including government.
It is a tough break, but furloughed employees could have it much worse, said Marion Crain, an employment and labor law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, in an interview in USA Today.
She said employees are often upset when they first hear about the unpaid leaves. Crain also said, “But they’re better off than many who’ll be handed pink slips or forced to take less pay for the same amount of work.”
The Alcorn County process seems likely to be used elsewhere before the recovery in Mississippi fully takes hold.
The state Center for Policy Planning and Research reported Monday that Mississippi’s economy seems to be slowly improving but at a rate weaker than the nation as a whole.
One the one hand, the newsletter Mississippi’s Business reported, the national economy seems to be showing greater strength, but in Mississippi “the six-month growth rate in the Mississippi Index of Leading Indicators has been negative for five straight months (reported for October). This is generally an indication of a weakening economy.”
Because government jobs account for more than 20 percent of non-farm employment in our state, any significant loss in that employment could spell more trouble for Mississippi.

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