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Schools brace for a bad budget year


Bonnie Coblentz



STARKVILLE -- Superintendents at both Starkville and Oktibbeha County schools spent time this week talking with their boards about budgets, specifically cuts, that are sure to come. 


Both spoke of the current debates waging in the Mississippi Legislature on whether or not to add a new cigarette tax and where that money should go if one were established. 


Judy Couey, superintendent of the Starkville School District, said her district likely will be down about $600,000 next year. James Covington, superintendent of the Oktibbeha County School District, did not give a figure, but said he didn''t know what budgets would be like. 


This is Covington''s second budget to develop and Couey''s first, although Covington came to the job from being an elementary school principal and Couey was promoted from assistant superintendent. 


Couey admitted that 2009-2010 will be a difficult year financially, and she outlined areas that are being scrutinized for cuts. Among the areas she mentioned were supplements, which will depend on the availability of funds; administrative travel, professional development; transportation; combining jobs and not hiring replacements in Central Office; and uniformity in pay scales. The fee structure charged for use of the Greensboro Center will also be examined. 


Speaking of the supplements paid to national board certified teachers, Couey said "we''re taking it on the chin." 


These supplements are guaranteed by the state, but Couey said the state plans to cut by 5 percent what they pay districts for this certification. The district pays teachers about $400,000 a year for national board certification, and will have to absorb about $20,000 of this with the proposed budget cut. 


"This year ... we will make it through. Next year will be tough," Couey said. 


She said at least 10 positions likely will have to be eliminated from the system to make budget next year.  


District Comptroller Rob Logan was not encouraging, either. 


"From all indications, it''s going to be really bad," he said. 


Speaking of the county budgets, Covington had nothing positive to say about the upcoming budget. 


"We have to be very strategic when planning next year''s budget," Covington said. "We don''t know what budgets will be like next year." 


Among the strategies he is considering for making ends meet in the county are to make some classes larger to avoid hiring more teachers or replacing those lost naturally to attrition. He also said the district may have to rely more heavily on distance learning opportunities for their students. 


"We have to be very careful," Covington said. 





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