School Board budget hearing held

By Amanda McBride
The Choctaw Plaindealer

The Choctaw County School Board plans to operate on an approximately $17 million budget for the 2014-2015 school year. In their June 17 Budget Hearing, Superintendent Glen Beard announced that the district would not ask for an increase of ad valorem taxes from the county.
No one from the public attended the public hearing.
The district is expecting total projected revenue of $18,928,579 for the 2014-2015 fiscal year. According to the “Notice of Proposed Ad Valorem Tax Effort” for the CCSD, 36.47 percent or $6,902,253 of the projected revenue will be proposed through a total ad valorem tax levy.
In the budget hearing, Beard explained that the CCSD expects to receive approximately $2,536.966 million from the Gen-On Power Plant. This is expected because the plant will be fully on the county tax roll instead of paying fee in lieu payments.
“This will not be an increase in ad valorem to the Choctaw County taxpayers,” said Beard.
He added, “The school district is not raising taxes.”
The $2.5 million expected from the power plant is included in the total projected revenue of $16,874,284.
Superintendent Glen Beard explained the situation with the county and Gen-On.
“From the time we went to publication for the budget hearing, until the Board of Supervisors officially set the value of the Gen-On facility, it is subject to change. The most recent unofficial true value we received after publication was $467,213,069, with an assessed valuation of $70,081,960. If this were to hold, the school district would receive $2,536,966.96, calculated as $70,081,960 X .03620, “ said Beard.
The district is unsure if they will receive the full-expected amount of $2.5 million or if they will receive a lesser amount. Beard said the district could cutback or reduce their budget if they do not receive the full-expected amount.
“The prior in-lieu arrangement set forth for the Gen On Facility generated around $913,380 this past school year. We have budgeted much needed improvement projects that we need to complete with the anticipated full revenue. We have allowed for cutbacks and reductions in this area if needed,” he added.
Beard explained, in the budget hearing, that the district’s major revenues come from three sources: Local-48 percent or $9,592,352, State-40 percent or $7,271,718 and Federal funding-12 percent or $2,069,508.
The district’s state funding has decreased because of the new “63 percent rule.” The School Board discussed and asked questions about this rule and how it affects the district’s budget during the hearing.
After the hearing, Beard summarized and explained how this rule affects the district.
“This has become a real burden to the District this year with the new legislative mandate of what is known as the “63% rule.” Last year the State Auditor’s office proposed, and a law was created to count, in Average Daily Attendance (ADA), only students who are at school a minimum of 63% of the instructional day. This is a good idea, but has serious financial consequences to the school district. For example, enrollment here in the Choctaw County School District is up from last year and that is a great thing. However, because of the new 63% rule, our ADA is actually lower by over 102 students. This directly affects MAEP funding that we receive, since it is based on ADA. Our total funding from MAEP for the 2014-2015 school year will be down from the current year by $ 193,497 as a result of this new rule. When the school year has negative revenue of ($193,497) and additional, mandated expenditures of $240,630, you can see that the unfunded financial burden this year alone to the district is over $ 434,000! The challenge for us is to figure a way to pay for this with potential dwindling revenues all around. Fortunately, unlike in the past, with the changes we made last year and the efficiencies they brought, we can manage this deficit, but it wipes out very important gains and potential improvement projects and takes us back to problematic levels to operate. The main argument we have against the 63% rule is that no one has shown us that any child’s absence from school reduces the financial burden on the district one cent. We still have to operate with staff, utilities, buses, etc. just the same, regardless,” said Beard.
The district has budgeted $17,738,343 for total expenditures for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
Beard said the district’s major expenditures are instruction 49 percent, student transportation 6 percent and operations and maintenance 11 percent of the expenditure budget.
Some of the challenges the CCSD sees for the budget include being underfunded by MAPE funds again this year. For the 2014-2015 school year, the district will be underfunded by MAPE $746,378.
Beard said being underfunded puts a greater burden on the district to provide education needs.
“The amount of underfunded MAEP for the 2014-2015 school year is $746,378. The net effect of this is a greater burden on the District to provide the education needs of our children. We have to resort to cutbacks and limitations to fulfill the basic needs. You can see that over a 10 year period, this results in an over $7 million shortage. We have adjusted as best we can, but our options are limited. Please realize that “fully funded” is the amount it would take for a district to operate on a “C” level. The underfunding that we have received over the years has been truly tough but our academic success is another testament to the great quality of our faculty and staff!” said Beard.”
The Choctaw County School District faces challenges each school year. This year’s challenges are funding.
“The primary challenges are as they always are, funding. MAEP is underfunded outright by over $746,000 plus the new, additional burden this year of over $434,000. This coupled with unknown values associated with the Gen On Facility as it moves to full ad valorem and threats of federal cutbacks are the things we have to take very seriously,” said Beard.
“We are trying to maintain and do what it takes to not put that on the taxpayers,” said Beard.
There are many positive accomplishments for the district also. Beard explains, “We have had a tremendous year in the Choctaw County School District! We are able to use 16th section funds for the purpose they were intended, major projects like new roofs, culinary arts program, etc. In years past those funds had been used for general operations and that is something that was just unacceptable. We are higher academically than we have ever been here in Choctaw County! Enrollment has grown and we are looking forward to the continued successes of our student, faculty and staff in the upcoming school year!
The School Board held a meeting to adopt the proposed budget on June 24.