By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – Every dollar matters. That’s what Superintendent Sammy Hidgon told School Board members Monday night as he recommended over a million dollars in cuts to the district’s budget.
Higdon said that administrators across the state had been told to prepare for a 10 percent cut in funds. That figure has risen to 15 percent. “We’ll probably be looking at a fourth round of cuts,” he added. “Because the January tax revenue was $43 million less.”
The Superintendent switched off the lights and presented his recommendations for 2010-2011 as a PowerPoint show projected onto the boardroom wall.
Higdon recommended cutting 10 workdays from the administrators, 20 workdays from the secretaries, and 13 workdays from the vocational teachers.
Among the positions he recommended cutting are business teacher, lead teacher, assistant band director, assistant teacher, tech prep assistant/secretary, elementary P.E. teacher, six teaching assistants, and the after school/summer school programs.
The staff cuts would add up to $441,828, Higdon said.
In athletics, Higdon recommended cutting coaching days, the athletic assistant, and one cheerleading coach. Programs cut would include junior high baseball, volleyball, junior high track, junior varsity football (correction: only two coaching supplements would be cut under the recomendations, not the JV football program), and high school track.
The athletic cuts would total $61,601, according to Higdon’s figures. When combined with the $456,000 already slashed and some add-ons, the total is $1,101,295.
Higdon was asked where the 15 percent figure came from. He responded, “Dr. Burnham (State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tom Burnham) said plan on the 15 percent cut. It may not happen, but he feels we need to plan for the worse.”
Higdon continued that even if the cuts were only 10 percent, he would recommend the same to give the district a little cushion going into the next year.
Based on the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) formula, a 15 percent funding cut adds up to $808,116, Higdon said. With add-on programs, the amount is $989,397.
“So, you can see that every dollar matters,” Higdon added. “It’s going to be extremely difficult from one end of the state to the other.”
The Superintendent also warned the Board of the “funding cliff” that will affect the year after next because stimulus money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will run out.
“There is no telling how much sleep I have lost over the last two months,” said Higdon. “But, when it comes down to it these are decisions you have to do.”
“All the things I listed up there will be my recommendation in two weeks,” Higdon said referring to the next meeting when the board will have to vote on the cuts.
He emphasized that board members could remove items from the list of cuts. But, those decisions would have to be made as a board.
“You can’t get away from that figure,” he said pointing to the $1,101,295 total.
“Every dollar will matter. The way I see this is the district will survive the next two years. But, will you have any money to do anything major or extra? No, you will not.”
At the beginning of the meeting, the Board heard from one of the affected staff members, Coach Doug Robbins. The coach said that he had gotten a letter informing him that the district was looking at cutting junior high baseball.
He said he had been told that the baseball programs didn’t cost the district any money. But, he saw on the list of budget cuts that the program was shown as costing $1,809.
“I have put together the figures on junior high baseball to at least serve as a debate as far as the financial standpoint or contributions that this program makes to the school district,” Robbins continued.
The coach said that the team had raised $3986.90 with a “hit-a-thon” and had other income which totaled about $4550. He then listed expenses of about $2700. That left a profit of around $1850.
“Since I have been here the last five years, junior high baseball has not cost this district one cent. My objective with our fundraisers is to break even.”
Robbins said that last year the board came up with a figure of $9000 to maintain junior high track, volleyball, and junior high baseball. “Dr. (Joe) Walker presented a check to this board for $9000 one evening to save those programs. Well, the junior high baseball program didn’t use a dime of that money.”
He said that the junior high baseball program needed financial support up front. “But, at the end of the day, the junior high program brought money to this district.”
“If you eliminate the baseball program, I would debate you on eliminating it from a financial standpoint,” Robbins said. “If there is another reason to eliminate it, please let me know.”
“Mr. Higdon, if it’s never been a financial issue then…”
Higdon responded, “By the way, his program does an excellent job of raising money for that activity account for the players. An outstanding job. But, we can’t pay salaries from a gate receipt.”
“All these athletic program salaries are what the district pays. No monies from gate receipts or fundraisers can be transferred to their salaries. So, that’s where the difference is.”
Higdon added that the money-making sports such as football, basketball, and baseball have to support the other sports such as track and volleyball.
“The district doesn’t give the athletic fund money. The only thing the district does is take care of the supplements and the salaries for athletics.”
Robbins said, “Please, excuse me. I still don’t understand how cutting this program is beneficial to the school district. If it doesn’t pay any salaries, junior high football doesn’t either, nor does junior high basketball.”
Higdon responded,” It’s just a recommendation, the Board will have to decide, Coach Robbins.”
Board President Lamar Burgess said to Robbins, “Please don’t be too overly upset right now. We’re looking at every avenue. You’re not going to be the only entity that comes with a request before the board finally decides what its final budget is going to be for the 10-11 year.”
Burgess added that he appreciated Robbins’ concerns and explained that others would want to verbalize their opinions to the Board. “What we’re going to have to look at as we get closer to the end of the year and setting our budget is what our costs are going to be.”
“As he stated, it’s the salaries that we’re looking at that we’re having to support that is going to determine what our budget is going to look like for ‘10 and ‘11.”
Robbins said there was one more thing he wanted to bring up. “Without a junior high baseball program, you may as well get ready to cut high school baseball.”
“It’ll be two years and the high school program will be non-existent.”
Burgess said, “Same thing is true for band. Same thing is true for football.”
Robbins broke in, “It’s not on the chopping block.”
Burgess continued, “Football is that one sport where I think we’d all have to resign if we decided to cut football. Let’s just face it. There’s a lot of interest in the sport. A lot of gate receipts. Football has been here and more than likely will continue to be here.”
“I’m not saying that baseball is not going to be here. As I said, I appreciate your concern. But, I have already had phone calls and I am sure many of the board members have about track. We had a young lady that won a state shot-put title. That’s going to cut her out.”
“There’s a lot of folks who would lose an opportunity if we cut any sport. So, right now we are going through the process. We are looking to see where we can save funds. We don’t want to see anything cut, but we are down to the meat and potatoes right now.”
Robbins asked if it would be acceptable to ask where the $1800 deficit shown in the budget cuts came from.
Higdon explained that the amount represented a $750 dollar supplement for 7th grade and a $750 supplement for 8th grade plus benefits.
“Don’t give up hope. It’s not over with yet,” Burgess said to Robbins.
The next meeting of the board will be held Feb. 22, the fourth Monday, instead of Feb. 15, the regular third Monday meeting date.