CMSD will not request millage increase despite enrollment drop


Cherie Labat, left, and Jason Spears

Cherie Labat, left, and Jason Spears



Amanda Lien



During Columbus Municipal School District's public budget hearing Monday night, Chief Financial Officer Tammie Holmes was met with applause when she told the board the proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget does not require a tax increase, despite the loss of more than $340,000 in state funds due to a drop in enrollment district-wide.


The district's total projected revenue for FY 2020 is $42.72 million with expected expenditures at roughly $42.64 million, for a surplus of just more than $82,000.


While enrollment has trended down in recent years, with CMSD losing a total of $2.3 million in Mississippi Adequate Education Program funding since FY 2017, Superintendent Cherie Labat told The Dispatch the major contributor this year is an EF-3 tornado Feb. 23 that displaced 70 students. Some of those went to other districts in-state, while others moved to other states.



"We've had a steady decline in enrollment for the last five years," she said. "I think this year, some of it is from the tornado. However, that enrollment number is an estimate, so hopefully it'll improve between now and the start of school."


The district's operating fund balance is roughly $4.6 million, Holmes said, which is about 15 percent of the $29 million in the district's maintenance fund -- the total projected revenue from local and MAEP. The state suggests maintaining at least 7.5 percent in case of unexpected finances which have not been budgeted, but CMSD policy dictates the district keep 15 percent at all times. Holmes and CMSD Board President Jason Spears both told The Dispatch that any money in the operating fund that exceeds 15 percent will go into the district's savings account, which currently has roughly $2.3 million. That account, Spears said, was set up for capital improvements -- such as a planned resurfacing of the Columbus High School parking lot that was originally approved in FY 2019 -- so that money in the operating fund did not have to be allocated.



'Making fiscally sound decisions'


Instructional costs, at just more than $19.6 million, make up 46 percent of the total projected expenditures in the budget, with support services, debt service and non-instructional services collecting the remaining funds. Holmes told CMSD board members and The Dispatch that three staff positions were vacated for FY 2020 due to low enrollment, which will save the district about $188,000. Additionally, though the district hired 10 full-time and one part-time employees, all those positions are funded with federal dollars and most of those dollars were previously spent on consultants and contractors that will no longer be needed.


"Most of those hires focused on student social and emotional support, which is something we really wanted to focus on," Labat said. "We looked at all the ways we could supplement district funds with federal and (special education) funds and making fiscally sound decisions. We're being wiser as a district about where we're adding additional employees and how they can support students."


The value of the district's tax millage, determined by property values, increased by $6,000 this year to $213,000. CMSD will request $13 million from local funds, which should be collected from 61.11 mills.


Last year's request was about $12.7 million collected from 61.17 mills.


CMSD will pay roughly $2.7 million toward the general obligation bond debt and the remaining lease on laptop computers for students, which are the only debts the district currently carries, Holmes said.


"I think this budget and the good shape the district is in goes back to this board and administration and how diligent they have been with the way we spend every cent," Spears said. "We did not want to impact instruction in any way, and I think, far from that, we're able to benefit students even more because we have the necessary funds to invest in their education."





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