Some Leflore County supervisors expressed concern Monday that county residents will pay more taxes to support the Greenwood Leflore Consolidated School District.
Mike Kent and Debbie Jones, two representatives from the Mississippi Department of Education, along with the district’s superintendent, Dr. Mary Brown, presented the school district’s proposed budget and funding for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
The budget is expected to have $35 million in revenue and $37 million in expenditures, Kent said.
“You’re the taxing authority. Obviously you have to levy the mills to generate the income,” he said. “We just ask for dollars; you convert it into mills.”
The new school district, which will be formed by the merger of Greenwood and Leflore County school districts on July 1, will have an expected enrollment of 4,851 students and an estimated tax rate of 46 mills, Jones said. That rate is lower than the Greenwood district’s current tax rate of 55 mills and higher than the county school district’s current rate of 36 mills, meaning city residents will pay less and those in the county will pay more.
“Obviously this is going to have a big impact on your farmers, your large property owners in the county,” Jones said.
County residents are expected to pay $91 more in taxes on a $100,000 house, $28 more on a $10,000 automobile and $129 more on a $100,000 business.
“People in this county can’t take that much more of a hit,” District 1 Supervisor Sam Abraham said.
Acknowledging some of the frustration, Kent said, “If you did not have the consolidation, you would not have this issue.”
Due to a decline in enrollment in district schools and less funding from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the state’s formula that apportions money to school districts, Kent said the consolidated district has lost about $1.5 million in state funding.
Kent said the district had lost 500 students since 2015.
State funding is based on average daily attendance, with the district receiving $5,285 for each student from the state.
A loss of 500 students means the district is receiving $2.6 million less.
“A decline in enrollment, it’s tough, it’s difficult to handle,” Kent said.
For every 25 students lost, he said, “you ought to cut a teacher unit.”
Additionally, Jones said, “We’re going to lose $840,000 in state funding. The state funding formula is saying because the Greenwood-Leflore tax base is strong, they should providing $840,000 more towards the MAEP formula.”
MAEP has only been fully funded twice since its inception in 1997.
In 2017, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature does not have to fully fund MAEP, ruling on suits brought by several school districts.
Abraham said that the “state can’t continue to control our money” and place the tax burden on local residents.
Board President and District 4 Supervisor Wayne Self also expressed concern.
“The city’s not paying a penny more, but these farmers out there, they’re going to spend a penny more,” Self said, adding that he fears the city and county will continue to see a decline in student enrollment.
District 5 Supervisor Robert Collins also pointed out the need for more money for the district buildings.
“We’re sitting here with some dilapidated schools,” he said. “... We don’t have the tax base to do what we need to do.”
“You just hit on the issue,” Kent said. “The issue is, quite frankly, you’re trying to operate too many schools on a $35 million budget. Now, that’s the elephant in the room.”
“That’s it,” Collins said. “You’re paying electricity bills; you’re paying roofing, cutting yards. I mean, you’re spending too much money on too many schools.”
The new school district will have 14 buildings, each needing repairs to varying degrees. So far, at least for the first school year, Brown has said she has no intentions of closing any schools.
“This is a bullet we’ve got to bite,” Self said. “…These are our kids. Whatever we’ve got to do, we’ve got to do it.”
The school district will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget at Greenwood School District Central Office, 401 Howard St., on June 18 beginning at 5:30 p.m.
In other business:
• The board approved the 11th Masonic District of Greenwood to use the Little Round Recreational Park on June 29 for a family and friends day.
• The board approved taking off July 4 and 5.
• Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The original version of this article included an incorrect calculation of the enrollment decline in the public schools in Greenwood and Leflore County.