By Glen Beard, Choctaw County Superintendent
As some of you know, we have encountered some very difficult financial times in the Choctaw County School District. The financial situation is so severe that we had to look at restructuring our district to cut down on our expenditures so that we can meet payroll in the years ahead. Our current configuration is not sustainable based on our current revenues and expenditures.
We have had a perfect financial storm occur over the last five years where decreases in state funding (over $3 million to CCSD over the last 5 years) along with a potential decrease in anticipated local revenue and decreases in enrollment have caused us to have to dip into our reserve funds for several years. This year, as outlined in our Budget Hearing, we have a financial gap of $1.7 million dollars between our expenditures and revenue. That is after we have made $1 million dollars in cuts to the expenditure budget. We have received word that we can expect more cuts in the future. I have had to look closely at our current proposal of restructuring and make sure I have the best plan to keep as many students in our district and lower our expenditures at the same time.
As we have gotten into this current school year and are covering our $1.7 million dollar gap with our reserve funds, I have realized that I must adjust our proposal to ensure we keep as many students as possible in our district. I am afraid under the current proposal there is too great a risk that we would lose around 180 students or more. Those 180 students translate to close to $1 million dollars of lost revenue. That figure subtracted from the estimated saving of the original restructuring proposal is not enough to allow us to make ends meet. In fact, the loss of revenue is greater than the projected savings in the original proposal. Had we been able to restructure this school year, we would have had enough to make ends meet until we got the full benefit from our local revenue (power plant going on the tax rolls).
Some of you may wonder how we could potentially lose 180 students. Under our current proposal, French Camp Academy has made it clear that they would open up their own 6th-8th grades. That would pull all the current academy kids from our district which is about 40 students in a year. Any changes to the Tri-County District that exists between Attala, Montgomery, and Choctaw Counties could dissolve that district. Dissolution of the Tri-County District would cause the district to lose 45 more students. Also, we stand to lose about 45 Choctaw County students in grades 6-8 from the current FCE attendance zone. Further, I am taking into consideration that we could have a loss of about 50 students from the Ackerman Attendance Zone to private schools in our area. This adds up to around 180 students.
I cannot predict the future or know for a fact that we would lose that number of students. It could be significantly more or less. However, I do know that we do not have the funds to take the risk! One of my greatest fears is for us to not be able to pay our faculty and staff for the outstanding work that is done in educating our students. That being said, I have had to modify our restructuring proposal. Under the new proposal, AES will remain a Pre-K-6th grade school. AHS will continue to serve grades 7-12 but will take in the students from Weir in grades 7-12. WAC will now be WES with Pre-K-6th grade. FCE will remain in its current configuration of Pre-K-8th grade and cannot be modified except by a majority decision by the school boards of Attala, Montgomery, and Choctaw Counties. In this proposal, as with the previous proposal, district lines for attendance zones will remain the same as they are currently. This new proposal allows us to dramatically decrease the potential student loss and increase the amount of savings to the district. Each student represents revenue of $5065 in MAEP funds. The Choctaw County School Board met on October 19 and voted unanimously (4 to 0 with one member absent) to adopt this modified plan.
I realize that this new proposal will be met with mixed emotions. I know that we will have some of the best facilities in our district that will be unused at Weir. I know that the town of Weir will be losing a very rich and storied athletic program. I am aware that there will be tremendous adjustments to be made by students, families, faculty, staff, and communities to accept the changes and each other. I realize that there are a number of unknowns encountered as we move forward. I also know that without finding a way to permanently fill the financial gap, we will not have a school district at all. The state will come in and do things the way they want to, and we would have no say in the matter. Also, I have to remind myself and all stakeholders that we are under a Federal Desegregation order, and anything we do will need the approval of the courts. Most of you are probably wondering when we will know something. I have asked that our lawyer request an expedited hearing so that I can let you know something as quickly as possible. I do not want to keep you in limbo any longer than is necessary.
I make one request of you. Please try to understand the circumstances that I face and understand that this is a very difficult situation. No one person caused this to occur. A combination of financial issues over the last several years has come to a head during this school year. Please know that I have looked at this new proposal with a magnifying glass and have in no way made this decision half-heartedly or politically! This decision was made with the best interests of the students of Choctaw County in mind. If you have questions or concerns, I invite you to call me, email me, or come by the office to see me. I am happy to discuss this with you.
Sincerely, Stewart G. Beard Jr. Superintendent of Choctaw County Schools