LEAKESVILLE, Miss. (WKRG) — The state saw record revenues in the last fiscal year. School districts saw record operating costs, while being underfunded by 10.5%.
“Especially during the time of the additional revenues that’s been made available, you would have hoped that the legislature would have, you know, shored up that difference there,” said George Hedgepeth, Greene County School District’s chief financial officer.
State revenue was up $1.3 billion over lawmakers’ initial estimates with one month before the fiscal year ended in June. In response, the largest-ever state income tax cut went into effect on July 1, passed by both chambers earlier this year. However, property taxes could increase at the local level for schools to make-up from the states’ underfunding.
In Greene Co. Schools, fuel costs doubled. It spent $120,000 on fuel during the 2020-2021 school year. The cost jumped to $260,000 last year and is budgeted at $343,000 for the 2022-2023 school year.
Health insurance costs are expected to rise by 6% for the George County School District. While the state legislature funded the largest teacher pay raise in decades in the last session, both districts chose to raise pay on their own accord for non-teaching staff.
“Obviously, we’re happy for the teachers getting the pay raise. That was needed to be competitive. But at the same time, we have more needs than just that. You’re talking 14 years now of underfunding and you’re seeing it in the facilities and infrastructure,” Hedgepeth said.
Greene Co. Schools will be underfunded by the state by $1.2 million in the upcoming school year. For George Co., it’s $2.6 million. Since the 2008-2009 school year, the district has been underfunded by $30.2 million, according to Chief Financial Officer Natasha Henderson.
|FY2023 Full MAEP Funding||FY2023 Actual Amount Allocated||FY2023 Difference||Total difference from 2009-2023|
|George Co. Schools||$24,837,468||$22,230,598||-$2,606,870||-$30,238,475|
|Greene Co. Schools||$10,278,643||$9,199,826||-$1,078,817||-$14,544,586|
While Greene Co. Schools’ budget for the 2022-2023 school year increased by $300,000 over last school year, the school board hopes to not ask the county for an increase in levied taxes. They currently levy 47.25 mills, or $47.25 per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value.
Three teachers and a teaching assistant submitted their resignations prior to the upcoming school year. The positions will remain unfilled. The district will also put updates to its bus fleet on hold while continuing to tighten spending across the board.
“If we were not able to do that, then we would definitely be asking for a millage increase at this point,” Hedgepeth said.
George County Schools also intends to keep its 49.57 millage for the upcoming school year.
School district funding formula
Public school funding has been determined by the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) since 1997. MAEP uses a formula to determine the minimum amount each school district needs to be operational and earn an average “C” grade for student achievement.
Each district is required to provide up to 27% in local contributions for the cost-per-student. George Co. budgets 19.1% of total revenue from property tax and other local revenue (like athletic event ticket sales and bank account interest). 53% of revenue comes from the state, 27.6% from federal funding.
Greene Co. budgets 25-30% of revenue from local sources, 44% from the state, and 25% from federal funding.
The state legislature has only fully-funded MAEP twice in 25 years. For the 2022-2023 school year, the legislature allocated $279 million less to K-12 school districts than what MAEP determined necessary. Since 2008, districts have been underfunded by $3.3 billion, according to advocacy group The Parents’ Campaign.
Greene Co. Schools was one of 21 districts to sue the state for underfunding MAEP in 2015. The state Supreme Court ruled that MAEP is not a mandate and the legislature can fund K-12 public school districts at its own discretion each year.
State Sen. Dennis DeBar (R- Leakesville), Chair of the Senate Education Committee, and State Rep. Manly Barton (R- Moss Point), House Education Committee member, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.