Administrator fears funding
plan could deplete reserves
SCHOOL FUNDING Kathy Davis, a Meridian High School math teacher, talks to her students Wednesday about how budgets work. At the same time in Jackson, state legislators are working on their own budget problem: Funding state agencies and public education for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Photo by Kyle Carter/The Meridian Star
from staff and wire reports
May 6, 2004
A top Meridian public school administrator said Wednesday she fears the district's fund balance could be depleted if it has to spend cash reserves on basic services next year.
Suzanne Smith, chief financial officer for Meridian schools, said she worries a proposal offered by Gov. Haley Barbour will require school districts to foot the cost of 8 percent teacher pay raises next fall.
Barbour and Senate Education Committee Chairman Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, started talking last weekend about using school district reserve funds to help cover education expenses during the fiscal year that starts July 1.
On Tuesday, Barbour offered a new proposal saying that the state should not tap school district reserves.
Instead, he said, lawmakers should fund schools at 95 percent of this year's level. And school districts, in turn, should not save 5 percent of their state appropriation as they have done in recent years.
Education has become the main sticking point in House and Senate negotiations over next year's $10 billion-plus state budget.
Lawmakers missed this week's deadline to complete budget work before the 2004 Legislature adjourns for the year Sunday. So, on Wednesday, they voted to extend the four-month session by a few days.
The extension gives lawmakers additional time to work on the budget and other key issues, including changes to the state's civil justice system. It's possible, however, that the session could still end Sunday.
House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said writing a budget is lawmakers' most important duty. The new deadline to complete work on next year's state budget is Sunday.
We're going to give our very best,'' McCoy said. Our people will be here 24 hours a day.''
Legislative leaders say they don't want to go home without finishing the budget a move that would guarantee lawmakers a trip back to Jackson for a special session in the next few weeks.
Lawmakers have struggled with education funding for much of the 2004 Legislature.
House leaders say they want to fund public schools at the same level as the current year, plus pay for a mandated teacher pay raise.
The Senate passed, and Gov. Haley Barbour originally backed, a plan that education leaders said would leave K-12 schools $161 million short.
Barbour said his new education funding proposal "is not budget reduction; this is budget responsibility."
Meridian's public school district has a fund balance of more than $4.3 million, while Lauderdale County's public school district has a fund balance of $4.1 million. County school officials could not be reached for comment.
House Education Committee Chairman Randy "Bubba" Pierce, D-Leakesville, said he would look at a plan to fund education at 98 percent of this year's level a move he said would require local districts to pay half the cost of the teacher raise.
Suzanne Smith said Meridian schools could live with that.