The prospect of county taxpayers paying more to support public schools under the Greenwood Leflore Consolidated School District brought a large group of farmers to the Leflore County Board of Supervisors’ meeting Monday.

Bob Morgan, trust officer and farm manager with Regions Bank, told the supervisors the farmers were worried about the estimated 8-mill increase in county residents’ taxes for public schools, especially on top of the 4% increase in valuation of farmland that was announced in January. If taken together, it would represent a 7.4% tax hike, he said.

“It would just be great if some of that increase in farmland revenue can reduce the impact of the combined school budget,” Morgan said. He hoped the increase in valuation would be factored in when the county sets the school district’s tax rate.

The proposed budget for the first year of operation of the merged school district calls for $35 million in revenue against $37 million in expenditures at an estimated tax rate of 46 mills. That rate is 9 mills lower than Greenwood taxpayers now pay to support schools and 8 mills higher than county residents pay. To make it even across the county, city taxpayers will pay less and county taxpayers will pay more.

“For everybody out here to understand, ... it’s not the Board of Supervisors doing this, and it’s not the city of Greenwood doing this. It’s the state of Mississippi. They are continuing to put the burden back on the local  unit,” District 1 Supervisor Sam Abraham said.

State law gives the consolidated school board authority and responsibility for setting its budget for the new district, but the farmers argued that the county supervisors had the authority and responsibility to tell the school district they wouldn’t increase the tax rate for the district and the school board would have to find a way to function with less revenue.

State law doesn’t allow that to happen, but some farmers asked what could happen if the supervisors refused to issue the tax rate increase.

Farmers complained that the taxes they are paying and the valuation of the land aren’t in proportion to the value of the crops they produce.

Morgan said the district could be helped if attendance could be raised to gain more state funding based on average daily attendance.

Farmer Baird Moor told the supervisors they had “a fiduciary responsibility” to hold the school board responsible for its budget. He noted published accounts of the projected student population of the district. The school district has projected enrollment that would be about 500 students less than were enrolled in 2015. Moor said he wanted to know where these students went — whether they just didn’t show up for classes or moved out of the district.

Moor complained that the consolidated school district law passed by the state leaves the county without representation on the board. “Most of the people in this room don’t have any representation,” he said.

Comments from the audience were allowed to roam across numerous subjects outside of the proposed school budget and taxes on farmland. Part of the discussion involved white flight from public schools after court-ordered integration.

District 5 Supervisor Robert Collins said, “Y’all left us 40 years ago with this problem. It’s time for us to come back together and be one school system.”

Collins said the education problems in Leflore County can’t be resolved until the county addresses the problems together. He said development wouldn’t come to Leflore County “because we’re separated. ... It just bothers me that we can’t come together in Leflore County.”

“Y’all moved to Carroll County and left us here,” he said. An anonymous audience member said he didn’t understand what Collins meant.

“You don’t have anybody in the school system,” Collins said. “You don’t know anything about the school system. You’ve got no idea that the kids have to put buckets down when it rains. ... You got no idea what the black kids are going through in this school system.”

Collins encouraged those in attendance to visit a public school in the county and see what conditions are like. An audience member said the private schools in the county are educating students with greater success and at a lower cost than the public schools.

District 3 Superintendent Anjuan Brown said, “There’s no one on this board that wants a tax increase.” He blamed the state for unfunded mandates and encouraged farmers to complain to the state.

Abraham said the school board has to address the reduced funding it will receive because of the loss of 500 students. He said the school district has to figure out where to cut staff and where to close schools.

District 2 Supervisor Reginald Moore told the farmers, “We all have to pay taxes, but we have to function.”

He said the discussion should wait for the real figures the school board approves in its budget, but he also said, “We don’t need to cut teachers. We’re in a teacher shortage across the state right now. We need to be trying to recruit teachers, certified teachers, so we can get out of this hole we’re in.”

Brown said the parents were the real problem with the school system in Leflore County. “I don’t think it’s the schools,” Brown said. “We’ve got a community problem.”

In other business, supervisors granted exemptions to the ad valorem tax, except for the taxes that go to schools, for Milwaukee Tool and Viking Range. Milwaukee Tool was allowed to not pay ad valorem taxes on $2.09 million in equipment and inventory. Viking was allowed to not pay taxes on $21,193,761 in equipment and inventory.

nContact Gavin Maliska at 581-7235 or gmaliska@gwcommonwealth.com.

 

 

 

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