PRC school board adopts budget; still looking for band director; St. Clair resigns

Published 1:49 pm Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Pearl River County school board on Tuesday adopted its 2010-2011 school budget after months of debate and a contentious June 7 public hearing, and also went into executive session to discuss hiring a new band director.

The board also accepted the resignation of Megan St. Clair as the school finance director.

The board adopted a $26.4 million budget that was $1.9 million less than the 2009-10 $28.3 million budget. The new $26.4 million budget takes effect on July 1 and runs through June 30, 2011, and reflects the impact of state budget cuts to the local school system.

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The new budget also contains a small local tax increase.

The board after the June 7 public hearing voted to raise taxes slightly, which will mean slightly higher fees on homes, property and car tags. Its motion also provided for dipping into cash reserves for 50 percent of the proposed increase.

St. Clair told the board that the district will have to dip into the cash reserves by about $106,000 to help sustain the budget.

At the June 7 hearing, a number of people opposed the tax increase and urged the board to dip into cash reserves entirely for the funds needed. There had also been a running debate between the board and Supt. Dennis E. Penton over the issue of using the school’s cash reserves. Penton wanted to use them, and the board did not, although it relented some and decided to dip into cash reserves for half of what is needed.

County tax assessor-collector Gary Beech told the Item last week an increase of 1 mill would probably generate an additional increase of about $20 per year per house on a home valued at $100,000.

The board currently has cash reserves of $3.7 million but only about $1.3 million are unencumbered and available for use to sustain any budget shortfalls, St. Clair has told the board before.

The school board exhibited disagreements up until actually adopting the new budget on Tuesday, when it was approved 4-1.

Board member Sherwin Taylor voted against adoptng the budget and against requesting the slight tax increase.

Asked why he was voting no, he simply said, “The budget is not balanced, and I am against raising taxes.”

The other four board members — Twila Crabtree, Michelle Boyd, Bonnie Sanders and Jeff Jones — voted for the new budget.

Just before adoption of the budget, Boyd went through selected items with St. Clair. Their discussion lasted about 15 minutes as various line items in the budget were examined.

Then, on Item 9 of the agenda, the board changed a recommendation from Penton not to pay step increases for the 2010-2011 school year for both administrators and non-certified staff.

The board, on a motion from Boyd, seconded by Sanders, voted to give step increases to non-certified staff but not to administrators. That vote was split, 3 to 2. Sanders, Crabtree and Boyd voted for the motion, and Taylor and Jones voted against the motion. It passed.

Taylor said he voted against the step increases because of the tight budget and Jones said he believed that the administrators should be included in the step increases. Asked from where the money to pay the increases would come, Boyd said from the cash reserves. St. Clair said it would cost an additional $25,000 to pay the increases.

Concerning  hiring a new band director, Taylor asked Penton what was the status of taht effort. The position had been left vacant earlier when the former band director resigned, and board members told band parents at an earlier meeting when they brought up the issue, that they knew nothing about it.

Band parents were at Tuesday night’s meeting, and a band parent who was acting as spokesman for the group, said band supporters were a little concerned since the time frame for preparing for fall performances was tightening.

Penton told Taylor that hiring a new director had not worked out so far, and told the board he did not want to discuss the details of the personnel matter in open session.

Crabtree then moved that the matter be discussed in the executive session at the end of the open session. Two other matters concerning personnel also were discussed in the executive session, during which the press and the public are excluded.

Penton said he was in the process of selecting someone for the position, but was not ready to recommend a candidate. He said he would have a recommendation by the time of the school board’s July meeting.

“That’s what we are waiting for,” said the band parent. “Besides the band, we have two other programs that are waiting for that position to be filled.”

Sanders said she understood the committee had recommended someone, but Penton said that the person recommended by the committee had declined the offer.

Crabtree’s motion to discuss the matter in executive session was passed unanimously.

The board also received the resignation of St. Clair as the school finance director. She told the board she was resigning to spend more time with her family and to further her education. She plans to take the exam to become a CPA.

Her last day is June 30. She has served as finance director for four years.