Picayune’s school district millage at max

Published 2:41 pm Thursday, June 14, 2012

With the county’s assessed value falling and federal assistance played out, Picayune’s Municipal Separate School District is still hoping to get about $400,000 more for the next school year.

School board members heard a budget presentation from District Finance Director Lisa Penton before Tuesday’s regular board meeting. The figures given during the presentation are only proposed, and the school board will have to approve any budget at its next meeting.

For the next school year, the district will request $8,647,767. Last year the district requested $8,242,441. The new request equals to an increase of $405,326, Penton said. No matter how much the district receives, she expects the district to maintain a balanced budget for the next fiscal year through the use of a reserve fund.

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“I think we’re very fortunate to have a balanced budget,” Penton said.

While those are only proposed figures, and the money requested from the county may not reflect what is actually collected and distributed to the district.

Penton said there is a fund balance of about $2.7 million to cover any shortfalls. The fund balance figure is the amount of money left after all the bills are paid from the current fiscal year that ends on June 30. The state requires Picayune’s School District to maintain a fund balance of $1.6 million. Penton is confident that if the county is unable to produce the requested amount due to lower county assessments, there is enough in the fund balance to cover expenses while still meeting the state requirement. Penton also mentioned that beginning next school year the district will no longer receive the Ad Valorem Reduction Grant initiated after Hurricane Katrina, which helped cover the declining county assessment.

Penton said the Tax Assessor’s Office will be unable to provide accurate assessment figures until the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. She added Tax Assessor Gary Beech informed her that the reason the county’s assessment is declining is due to a smaller number of new car sales.

The district is maxed out on the millage it can assess, 55 mills plus one mill added for the GED program. Last year the district requested a total of 56.79 mills, which also included the 1 mill for the GED program. Penton said the district will get whatever 56 mills amounts to, no matter if the county’s assessment is up or down.

In the next fiscal year the district also plans to purchase two new patrol vehicles for school resource officers at a cost of $22,000 each and three school buses at a cost of about $85,000 each, Penton said. If there is not enough money to go around, then the district may have to buy two buses instead of three. The budget also outlined a step increase for employees, which would amount to about 9 cents per hour for each employee.

Penton said the budget presented during Tuesday’s meeting is only a proposed budget, and would be considered at the next board meeting.

n other business the board approved hiring three new coaches at the high school. Assistant Superintendent Brent Harrell said Dennis Peterson was hired as the new high school girl’s basketball coach and the assistant high school boys basketball coach. Scott Stephens will be the new high school boys head basketball coach. Also, the board approved hiring Charles Summers as high school boy’s assistant football coach.

On a separate matter, board member Frank Feeley asked why the water bill at Nicholson Elementary was so high, $443.08 for one month. Penton said school district employees have looked for leaks to determine why the bill was so high, especially when the new Early Head Start building only had a water bill of $98.56 for the same month. No action was taken on the matter.

Starting in July of this year district employees will get paid once a month, as mandated by newly enacted legislation, Harrell said. The big problem will be between Dec. 15 and the end of January where almost six weeks will pass between pay checks. Direct deposit also will be required, Penton said.

Board member Jimmy Hancock wanted to know what is going on with attendance at the high school. He said he had a high school teacher ask him why some students can miss more than the allowed days but still receive passing grades. Feeley wanted to know where the truancy officer was at, for the same reason. Harrell said the real question is why a student was still getting passing grades even after missing so many days. That matter was not addressed.

The next school board meeting will June 26, at noon.