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Robert Smith: Explaining the dollars-and-cents relationship between city and schools




As Mayor of the City of Columbus, I am writing this article to try to clarify any issues concerning the fiscal relationship between the City of Columbus and the Columbus Municipal School District. 


Let me begin by making two preliminary points: first of all, the information I will be giving in this article is applicable to not just the City of Columbus and the Columbus Municipal School District, but to all cities and their respective municipal school districts throughout this state; secondly, the State laws I am about to reference apply to not only all cities in Mississippi, but also to all county governments and their respective school districts, as well.  


In a nutshell, the fiscal relationship between a city and/or county government and their respective school district is governed entirely by State law. In other words, neither Columbus nor any other city or county in Mississippi has any discretionary authority over a school district''s budget.  


By law, cities and counties are the "levying authority." In other words, and I''m quoting straight from the applicable State law, "upon receipt of the school board''s order" requesting tax dollars, " the levying authority (city and/or county) shall determine the millage rate necessary to generate funds equal to the dollar amount requested by the school board." That''s the law, plain and simple.  


Except for one point: and this is why I emphasized the above word "order." By State law, each and every school board''s request to its local levying authority (be it a city or county government) is actually a specific directive and order that the city or county will levy the millage to generate the exact dollar amount needed by that school system.  


And not only must all cities and counties in Mississippi set the millage to meet the school board''s tax dollar order, it must do so to the penny! To be even more specific, the Mississippi Attorney General, back in 1999, stated emphatically that no city or county in this state has any authority whatsoever "to reduce the tax request made by the school board."  


So what does all this mean? It means that every school across this State can tell local elected officials to raise taxes! It means that an appointed board (whether city or county) can tell an elected board what to do. That really makes no sense if you think about it, right? So why not just remove the members of the school board and appoint new members? State law prohibits that too. School board members get to stay for the full term of their appointments, by law, unless they commit a felony.  


But across Mississippi, cities'' and counties'' hands are tied. Basically, appointed school boards decide how much school taxes citizens have to pay. Personally, I think that''s wrong.  


Twenty or so years ago, local governments got about sixty per-cent (60%) of the tax dollars and the schools got forty per-cent (40%). Now it''s just the opposite: the schools get roughly sixty percent (60%) and cities get forty per-cent (40%).  


Please don''t misunderstand me. I spent 31% years as an educator and even served on the Columbus Municipal School Board for 5 years. I''m very pro-education and support more pay for all teachers. Unfortunately, at least in the City of Columbus School District, that''s not where the real dollars are going. They''re going to big salaries for way too many administrators. Again, I personally think that''s wrong.  


The City School Board could have made serious cuts in their budget request which they delivered to us this past Tuesday morning, August 9th, but they didn''t. The City School Board could have given us a smaller, dollar request so the City wouldn''t be legally forced to raise taxes 2.9 more mills, but they didn''t. The City School board should be concerned that by forcing the City to raise millage they are running people away, but they obviously aren''t. The City School Board should also be concerned that by continually grabbing, as allowed by law, a bigger and bigger piece of the tax dollar pie, they are forcing the City into a bad position where we cannot continue to provide the same, City services without raising our own millage rates.  


On several occasions, I personally requested that members of the Columbus School Board meet with me and the Columbus City Council to discuss how a realistic, City School budget, requiring no millage increase by the City, could be developed. They flat refused. They also refused to meet when I proposed a public meeting so that citizens and the media could attend and participate. In- excusable.  


Instead, behind closed doors, the School Board drafted ten (10) different, proposed budgets -- all with different numbers, including different debt schedule repayment amounts (which makes no sense), then presented them to Lowndes County Tax Assessor/Collector Greg Andrews and asked him to help them decide which request to present to the City, but with ten (10) different, proposed budgets with tax requests that are literally impossible to correlate, much less comprehend.  


Let me end this by simply saying that I wrote this article to let the people of this community know, in no uncertain terms, the following: the Columbus City School Board sets its own budget, not the City; by State law, the City has to levy millage to meet the exact dollar request; also by State law, the City has no authority to lower and or change the School Board request by one penny; the Columbus City School Board refused to make real cuts, as I requested, in their budget; plus, the School Board had the audacity to order the City to raise taxes by 2.9 more mills; the School Board, and their Interim Superintendent, consistently refused to meet with the Mayor and City Council, and the citizens and media, to discuss their proposed budget; the School Board''s tenth, revised budget presented to my office is a farce, at best. The current School Board apparently does not care whether the citizens of Columbus pay more taxes or leave the City.  


Robert Smith is the mayor of Columbus.



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Reader Comments

Article Comment zipporah commented at 8/14/2011 7:09:00 AM:

Thank you so much for explaining and sharing information. I hope that the City Council will remove these members (each and every one) when their term is up. If this is not done, I think people are fed up enough with the ridiculous spending and cover ups that take place, that the voters may chose to oust the City Council. I hope that the City Council will investigate and be as forthcoming with the public as this letter has been. Some states have laws that can set caps on school board spending, Tennessee for example. Del Phillips has been quoted in "The Tennessean" as saying that he believes this is not a good law. Sumner County posts on its website, a penny by penny account of their budget. What are the public's rights here? We should be able to see exactly where the money is going. If there is nothing to hide, then be as forthcoming with the budget as Sumner County. Two articles of special interests in "The Tennessean" are: "Sumner Commissioners Tell School Board More Cuts Needed" and "Look at Nordstrom, Not Walmart." There is one authority over the School Board and that is the MDE. Many districts have been taken over for the same things that are going on here. I hope the City Council will not just give up, but will continue to investigate further. So many of our lead educators do not even pay city taxes, but reside in other towns. There is not one board member that has a child in this district at present or even in the past. Why WOULD they care? One thing that keeps popping up over and over...why was the renovation job not advertised and bids taken? (Again, outsiders.) I think there are Mississippi laws that are very specific about that. This is just one thing that needs to be investigated. Again, thank you for being forthcoming! This is what Columbus needs.


Article Comment sheatherly commented at 8/14/2011 9:58:00 AM:

Yes, thank you Mayor Smith, for this information.
So, the students are overdrilled on "how to pass an achievement test" to the point of cutting back social studies to 15 minutes every other day(!) (doesn't matter? not on the ach. test?), then two or more weeks given over to various actual testing, and then teachers are extensively evaluated and rated (and NOW a new teacher eval. program put in place in two schools), but NO format in place for the
evaluation of principals, dept. heads, assistants, or the supt...nor the school board....can't even fire them? This backward emphasis on accountability, this bottom-heavy pressure on who is responsible for the outcome IS the problem.
A school board who is untouchable only has to be snowed by
someone who is little more savvy than they are in order for him or her to get control of what to do with millions of dollars at his or her disposal. I BELIEVE the perks (multiple conferences with family)
(the ability to set up what amounts to the equivalent of a "private school" situation, in my opinion, for their own children within the public school system as existed at Hunt during the last two years of its operation approved by Dr. Phillips and the school board....I doubt the school board really knew WHO was included in this special situation, but Phillips did), the vast amount of money that is available to the whims of the decision-makers who don't have to answer to anyone, and their ability to fill positions with like-minded cohorts is a MAGNET for thieves and con artists to flock toward this "educational profession" of adminstration....when many start off as physical education majors.. coaches ..and spend very few years in an actual classroom before they start their upward climb to the good life. No wonder so many school districts are being taken over by the state department (see below*). A better policy of accountability needs to be put into place by the MDE!
And 'zipporah' is right.. there have been at least six administrators from West Point alone, if not more. If you go to the
Stokes-Beard web page through and watch the student tech video, you will see a large number of teachers from West Point featured (if they don't remove it before you can see it), as is the principal. Why is this? Are the best candidates for positions being considered? These out-of-town employees are NOT even paying for this tax increase. Was Del Phillips even a resident or a tax payer? (I was told his downtown balcony apartment was paid for by the school district...another "perk". If this is not true, someone please correct me on this.)

*And this about our former high school principal, Pierce McIntosh, who also tried to charge me an extra $100. for a "lost receipt"...for
the same program recently in place at Columbus High School.
[...Sunflower County School District abolished by the state Board of Education and Gov. Haley Barbour.]
This stuff is real, people.


Article Comment jw commented at 8/14/2011 11:09:00 AM:

If cuts are required in a city or county's budget it should not be at the expense of our most valuable resource, the children. I see so many people who send their children to private schools because they have lost faith in the city/county providing a good education. I'm willing to spend more tax money to turn around this perception.

I can't speak about the amount of information that flowed between the school board and the city council. But, I do believe the school board budget should have input from the constituents before it's passed. While I think most of the members want the best education for the children they can provide, they need to communicate better to the tax payers.


Article Comment ishineyoushine commented at 8/15/2011 9:20:00 AM:

I have to agree with sheatherly you have some Great pointers and I am coming along to add on.


Article Comment ishineyoushine commented at 8/15/2011 9:21:00 AM:

Howdy partner


Article Comment ishineyoushine commented at 8/15/2011 10:00:00 AM:

What's really going on in Columbus? Alot of scratch my back I scratch yours lets take this thing back to where it began back when Del came to this town. He wanted to recieve stimulas money so they started the SUCCESS CALENDAR wow!!!!!! teachers were forced to work parents filled out Surveys and had to put their names on them Where You Do That At????? It was all to keep one person position as Curriculum Specialist at Stokes so in order for her out of all the other ones in the district they rigged the surveys for Del and he promised the Principal at stoke her good friend a job but it didn't work out as planned she was suppose to become their assistant principal but I don't think there is enough students in their building for that to happen sooooooo she gets to keep the One In Only Postion in the entire district CS OMG!!!!! and it has gone to her head. I think she should be placed BACK into the classroom there is an extra one in their building ha ha ha!


Article Comment ishineyoushine commented at 8/15/2011 10:17:00 AM:

I agree also with the Mayor CUT Administrators their not worried about anyone else job but their own and its said to say but lets CUT and why don't we start from the Top that's a Great place :). The Teachers run the schools thats where the burden falls Go Teachers some of you Rock!!!!!!!


Article Comment zenreaper commented at 8/15/2011 4:39:00 PM:

jw, there is NOT a perception problem in Columbus. People do not PERCIEVE that the schools are bad. They KNOW the schools are bad. And they KNOW this because, well, the schools are BAD. We have a county middle school that has, for at LEAST 4 years, failed the standardized testing. Their solution? Wish them better for next year.

You have guidance counselors that don't do CRAP for the students, you have pricipal's that cannot control their teachers, and teachers that cannot control their students. And, hence, you have STUDENTS who cannot/will not control THEMSELVES. Last year, at one of the high schools, the class, on DAY ONE< had a teacher in TEARS due to their failure to BEHAVE. And these were JUNIORS.


Article Comment ishineyoushine commented at 8/15/2011 8:02:00 PM:

jw I'm not sure of your point but if the high school is like another school in the district your right there is No control in the schools because if you send a child to the office nothing is done and they are sent back to your class to finish cutting up.The concern is MONEY honey can't you see thats what all this talk is about OH and lets not get on the subject of TEST SCORES cause if you do there will be MORE cuts in CMSD ASAP!!!! TO BE CONTINUED LOL!!!!!


Article Comment ishineyoushine commented at 8/15/2011 8:06:00 PM:

CORRECTION ZENREAPER I apoligize for that mistake


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