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School District Makes Cuts After State Funding Is Hit

By David Howell

JACKSON –  Water Valley was one of 14 school districts identified statewide that would be operating in the red following a 3.23 percent cut in state funding, according to an announcement made last week by State Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds.

    “We are preparing for the worst,” Water Valley Superintendent Sammy Higdon confirmed, as the district braced for the $203,418 loss in state funding this year, and anticipation of several rocky years ahead as a result of the recession.

    “Cuts affect the poorest schools the hardest,” Higdon said, explaining that of the state’s 150-plus school districts, Water Valley already ranks 124th in per pupil expenditures.

    His comments followed a trip to Jackson last Wednesday to meet with Bounds and other superintendents to discuss the budget reduction. Higdon said the school has a five-phase plan to trim expenses, with phase one implemented in August and phase two in October. Phase three will take effect at the beginning of the next school year

Phase One And Two

    Many facets of the district have been affected, starting in the superintendent’s office with two positions, including the assistant Superintendent slot, which was not filled this year, and the superintendent’s secretary.

    Other cuts already made in the first two phases include three teaching assistant jobs in the elementary school, the maintenance manager, a bus driver, janitor and two cafeteria workers.

    These cuts, defined as phase one and two, affect the current fiscal year’s budget, 2008-2009, and will save the district $245,354.

Phase Three

    The next round of cuts, described as phase three, will be implemented in the coming fiscal year, 2009-2010, and  will hit the school’s athletic department the hardest, according to Higdon.

    On the chopping block is the athletic director, which will save the district the $20,000 supplement paid to Chick Drewery with the elimination of this position. Volleyball, seventh and eighth grade baseball, seventh and eighth grade track will also be cut, saving almost $14,410 in salaries and benefits paid to coach as supplements. Another  coach will be cut, saving another $3,000.

    Two high school teachers will also be cut, as well as the athletic aid Jason Langdon, with the total reduction to the district’s budget totalling $214,538 during the 2009/2010 school year. An additional $33,000 has been cut in the cafeteria’s budget. Another position will also be eliminated in the central office, according to the superintendent.

    The three phases of budget cuts will eliminate $492,892 from the budget.

    “We have got to preserve the financial integrity of the school district,” Higdon said of the cuts. “But student achievement will not be affected,” Higdon stressed, as he anticipated Water Valley students scoring better on the state’s curriculum test this year than last, and topping out in the third year.

    Higdon said he did not expect the positions cut to bounce back, as it will take several years to build the surplus money necessary to cash flow the school district.

    “The state says to keep four or five percent in reserves,” Higdon said about the school’s bank account. “We are going to have to keep $750,000. At the beginning of the school year the district had almost $500,000 in reserve money. The reserve is needed for cash flow, according to the school’s business manager, Randy Goodwin, who explained that the district often has to pay for federal programs in advance.

    “It took until October to get reimbursed from the U.S.D.A. for the free and reduced lunches that the federal government offsets for many of our students,” Goodwin told the Herald.         The district’s total budget this year is $10,310,416, which comes from federal, state and local funding. Of that amount, the state kicks in $6,480,373, local ad valorem taxes account for almost 10 percent, while federal funding makes up the difference.

    Higdon said he expects to ask for a seven percent tax increase to county and city taxpayers, the maximum amount allowed by law without having a referendum.

    Higdon also said the school district has high dollar maintenance issues looming, including installing a new roof for the high school.

    “We also have to purchases buses on a regular basis,” Higdon said.

    As to phases four and five, Higdon was quick to say he hopes they do not have to be implemented.

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