Superintendents: School funding cuts to produce minimal changes

Even though citizens are aware of the nation’s declining economy, it is sometimes difficult to imagine that the effects of recession are creeping into everyday life. Now, because of a statewide budget cut, Mississippi’s schools will get a taste of the effects. On Nov. 12, 2008, Gov. Haley Barbour made a 2 percent cut in statewide spending. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) was initially excluded from this cut. However, as of Jan. 14, 2009, Northeast Mississippi schools are now affected by the 3.49 percent that was recently shaved from the MAEP statewide budget. This took away about $76.6 million altogether. Schools in North Tippah County will be losing $234,897. However, in light of this funding shortage, Junior Wooten, Superintendent to North Tippah County schools, reports that the North Tippah school district has enough carryover from last year to absorb the cuts. He further explains that the district operations will probably not be noticeably affected. “We will be okay for one year,” he said. Likewise, even though the South Tippah district will be shorted about $466,911, district officials report that they expect to have about $750,000 left over in fund equity. Because the district will have more than enough money to cover the cuts, operations will not be outstandingly affected. It is possible that some instructional money may be cut, but the athletic budget will definitely be reduced. When the constructional payments on the new event center are complete, more money for other operations will be available. The event center should be substantially complete by May of this year. In light of these financial hardships, district officials in Ripley have faced controversy over the questionable relationship between higher taxes and making payments on the new event center. The money for this building project, as well as others, comes from the fund equity. The district is paying for the projects out of its own funds, not taxes. In North Tippah, Wooten says that the biggest change people may notice as a result of the cuts is that there will not be as many improvement projects to school buildings. Because teachers’ salaries are under contract, they are not at risk of personal income deductions or termination. South Tippah school district officials said that because no teachers will be let go, the students and parents will not notice much of a change. The teachers, however, will be more restricted because the Education Enhancement Fund (EEF) will be reduced. This fund is reduced a little every year. It is necessary that Gov. Barbour issues this cut because the revenues for the year to-date are already falling short of expectancy. In order to make up for some of these funding cuts, the House is hoping that a tobacco tax increase will be approved by the Senate. If this tax is passed, it will hopefully be effective by March 1. The 80 cent increase is expected to generate about $68,000,000. However, if that does happen, then the money brought in by the tobacco tax would not necessarily be promised to make up for the cuts taken from the education fund. If more money is reduced in the future, then it is possible that Tippah County may not be as fortunate as it currently stands. Officials know that Tippah County schools will have to weather the storm for a time, but they look to the coming years with optimism, knowing that Mississippi will without question continue to educate its students.

Melonie Stewart