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Budget woes have school district in quandary

With the governor’s office and Mississippi Senate locking horns with the Mississippi House of Representatives over $60 million in stimulus money and what to do with it, local school districts are finding themselves in a financial quandary, and Pearl River Central School District is no different.

Now with a midnight state budget deadline looming and no answer in sight, PRCSD, which has made budget cut after budget cut in anticipation of a lean financial year, has little to go on until the state makes a decision. “Right now all we have control over is the spending side,” said district superintendent Dennis Penton. “Jackson is in control of the revenue. We have cut, cut, and re-cut … without starting to damage programs.

If the governor’s office and the Senate get their way, Penton said the school districts in the state, including Pearl River County, will be faced with eliminating programs, extracurricular activities and staff positions. “If they (hold the money until next year), the budget cuts will be much more severe,” Penton said.

He told school board members that the preliminary budget they were looking at “is what it is,” going onto to explain that they had “shuffled personnel, cut personnel, (and modified) the student/person ratio.”

Penton said that he had looked at every possible scenario of what could be cut and where, noting that if the district cuts every extracurricular program, supplements for coaches, and everything in the athletics’ fund, “it amounts to roughly $25,000, so personnel is the only place to cut.”

He went on to say that already administrators had done just about everything they could in anticipation of the state budget. “We have increased the number of students in classrooms without taxing our teachers,” said Penton, saying that a lot of the overages in the budget were due to first time start up costs for the St. Michael’s campus.

“We can survive this year, but next year we won’t,” said Penton, adding that the district was actually better off than some other school districts. “What we have done that is good is that in the years we could, we set aside some on the fund balance. Our fund balance is in fine shape compared to others,” said Penton. “Next year we will have a healthy fund balance, so it is not a problem, yet, but eventually it is not going to be very good.”

In other business, the board accepted a proposal to provide a mix of on site and satellite food services for the St. Michael’s campus next year. The board compared four different scenarios for the food service for the campus, which will service approximately 80 to 120 students. Penton had urged the board to consider some in-house cooking because of the limitations to satellite food services.

The board agreed to allow the school to cook some items at existing school kitchens already equipped to handle batch cooking, while fresh food items such as fruits, breads and vegetables would be prepared on site.

The board also accepted the resignations of: Shonda Dillard, cafeteria; James Crawford, high school science teacher; Carla Penton, nurse; Ashley Harper, high school computer applications and keyboarding teacher; Kathy Holland, high school special education teacher; Jason Wilkerson, computer technician; Courtney Posey, assistant softball coach; Judson Necaise, assistant high school football coach; and Mary Jensen, purchasing clerk.