Schools take a hit in state funding

Staff Writer

In another example of the difficulties the state has in settling on a fair funding formula for K-12 education, West Point and Clay County schools are being punished for the region's economic development successes.

According to preliminary state estimates, the school district will receive about $13,600,000 in Mississippi Adequate Education Program funding in the budget year that starts July 1. That's about $730,000 less than the current year and $1.5 million less than full funding.

Of the $730,000, about $600,000 offsets the $600,000 in tax revenues the district received for the first time last year from the new Yokohama Tire plant. The remaining $130,000 is from lower average daily attendance and enrollment.

The current funding formula sets a floor for local funding contributions to schools. So when a district gets a bump such as the one from Yokohama, the state takes that amount of money away.

"We are punished somewhat for succeeding," said Susan Cothren, the school district's business manager. "We sure would like to have that money or at least part of that money to do other things with."

The decline in state funding is nothing new to the West Point-Clay County district or most districts in the state, especially those with a history of declining enrollments.

Since the 2015-16 school year, state funding has fallen from $15,781,184 to next year's projected $13,595,613. If the Legislature had fully funded education based on the law, the district's funding would have been $17,184,055 in 2015-16 and $15,062,083 starting July 1, 2018.

Even with the reduced state funding, Cothren said she doesn't anticipate having to ask local taxpayers to make up the difference. The district already eliminated some positions for next year through retirements, transfers and six actual staff reductions.

"We haven't gotten to the point of figuring our local budget request yet but right now, I don't see us asking for more revenue locally other than what comes through natural growth," she said.

The district's budget has fallen from $34,422,798 in 2015-16 to $31,644,761 in the current year.