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Budget cuts threaten programs, teachers

By Staff
ELECTIVES Lowell Hummer, Magnolia Middle School's art and Spanish teacher, explains the art program to parents of fifth graders during a Tuesday night orientation. Photo by Carisa McCain / The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie/staff writer
Feb. 6, 2002
Meridian and Lauderdale County educators are bracing for cuts of up to $52 million in state education funds a move that could endanger elective courses and personnel.
Meridian School Superintendent Janet McLin said Tuesday that her school district may have to consider cutting programs and teachers.
McLin could not estimate how much money in state funds the Meridian school district could lose next year.
Officials with the Mississippi Department of Education in Jackson briefed educators with the 149 public school districts on Monday about how the state's weak economy could affect schools.
They said money legislative budget officials have recommended for education spending during the fiscal year that starts July 1 is $111.4 million less than what is needed.
Judy Rhodes, director of accountability for the state Department of Education, said she doesn't believe legislators will be able to find the $111.4 million.
Lauderdale County School Superintendent David Little described the meeting as being "just like a funeral." He said his district is looking at a possible loss of $800,000 next year.
Last year, he said, Lauderdale County schools reduced its teaching staff by seven and left two principal positions unfilled.
The district also cut back on textbook and classroom supply money and increased student-teacher ratios because of the drop in staff.
Teachers received pay raises last year in the Lauderdale County School District, Little said, while mechanics, cafeteria workers, custodians and other support staff didn't.
Enterprise School Superintendent Arthur McMillan said his district is expecting a cut of $121,000. He said the district will survive this school year, but no one can say what will happen if the trend continues.
He said the Legislature needs to supply money for everything it mandates and suggested a state tax increase may be the fairest solution to the problem.
Said Little: "The Legislature says it's not going to raise taxes, but that's a lie. Because when local school districts have to raise taxes and parents have to pay more for tuition, it's just as much their fault as it is ours."