Residents of Greenwood and Leflore County raised concerns during a hearing Tuesday about the proposed budget for the Greenwood Leflore Consolidated School District.

The school board held the public hearing to allow residents to voice their concerns. The board must adopt a budget prior to July 1, the date the Greenwood and Leflore County school districts will merge.

The proposed budget is expected to include $35 million in revenue and $37 million in expenditures and an estimated tax rate of 46 mills, lower than the city school district’s rate of 55 mills but higher than the county school district’s rate of 36.

Debbie Jones and Mike Kent, representatives of the Mississippi Department of Education, were present to explain the proposed budget and answer questions.

“Why did you consolidate if you’re not going to save taxpayers money?” one man in attendance asked.

Jones said the district will work on cost-saving measures to be implemented next year to balance the budget.

She also said the proposed school budget is an ideal budget,  explaining that in some cases, the district may be spending less money than required, such as if the district can’t hire all the certified teachers it requires.

With a new tax rate, city residents would pay less money in various taxes, whereas county residents would pay more.

For example, for a $100,000 home, city residents would pay $97 less in taxes while county residents would pay $93 more.

For a $10,000 automobile, city residents would pay $29 less in taxes, and county residents would pay $28 more.

And for a $100,000 business, city owners would pay $145 less in taxes, and county business owners would pay $139 more.

“The county is getting double whammy because it has less students than the city,” one man in attendance said.

Kent acknowledged that “the impact in the county is significant” but explained that the consolidated school district’s tax rate is lower than those in other districts with similar student enrollments. The new district will have around 4,700 students.

School districts in Meridian and Greenville have tax rates of 54.90 mills and 55 mills, respectively. The Lowndes County district’s rate is 39.02 mills.

Kent said the consolidated district will be able to save about $1.2 million in administrative costs because there will be only one central office.

However, Jones said the district will lose about $1.6 million in state funding.

About one half of that loss in state money, $840,710, is due to a reduction in the state formula used to appropriate money to school districts. The other half in reduction of state funding, $834,726, is due to a decline in student enrollment.

Since 2015, the city and county school districts combined have lost 500 students.

A tax increase of $840,000 could be implemented to offset the loss in state funding, Jones and Kent said.

“We should have reduced in personnel and/or buildings in that time. That has not happened,” Kent said.

He added that the law mandates only district consolidation and not closure of school buildings.

Several residents concerned about tax increases asked if any school buildings will be closed.

Dr. Mary Brown, the superintendent, has said there’s no current plan to close any schools.

A study of school buildings across the district, conducted by Beard+Riser Architects, will commence next week and should be finished within 120 days. The school board will use the findings of that study to see if any schools need to be closed.

George Whitten Jr., a local lawyer, said that the board “ought to shoot for more than $1.2 million in savings.”

“Everywhere we look, there’s reasons to spend less money,” Whitten said, citing the shrinking populations in the county and city,  fewer babies being born at Greenwood Leflore Hospital and a decrease in student enrollment as reasons why.

“Things are desperate,” Whitten said. “If you want the school district to hold steady ... reduce property taxes so we can support poor mothers who think they can’t afford another child or can’t afford the first one.”  

Deirdre Mayes, the outgoing board president, who will resign her position at the end of this month, told the audience, “This board is concerned about the tax burden. We’re taxpayers as well,” explaining that the $1.6 million cut in state funding was unexpected.

“We hear you. We’re doing what we need to do,” Mayes said.

The school board will adopt a budget at its next meeting, scheduled 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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