The district has proposed a 2013-14 revenue budget of $14,864,728.50 which is down from actual 2012-13 expenditures of $14,948,616. Trustees had proposed a revenue budget of $15,191,446 last year.
“We have seen our MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program) funds drop dramatically over the past year,” said Houston Superintendent, Dr. Steve Coker. “And just like with your household, the price of everything else and our costs have gone up.”
The district projects MAEP funds to be cut by $378,000 this year.
The district has budgeted for an approximate 4-percent increase in ad valorem taxes from property owners in the Houston School District this year.
Coker told trustees last month the district would be cutting up to six teaching-units this year. He pointed out last week, while no teachers lost their jobs, the district did not fill several vacancies brought about by retirement and teachers taking jobs with other districts.
It was noted property insurance went up approximately $48,000 this year. Teachers did get a cost of living raise and saw their cost for state health insurance decline, but trustees have not budgeted raises for teachers this year.
The district has also budgeted $300,000 for attorney fees as it faces potential litigation to force architects Pryor & Morrow and contractor CopperTop Roofing to repair a leaking roof at the Houston School of Science and Technology. The district paid approximately $240,000 to have that roof installed in 2010.
The district has also budgeted $400,000 to repair the roof if litigation fails to get the contractor and architect to fix the roof at the vo-tech center.
“Those numbers seem high to me,” said Trustee Daniel Heeringa. “I don’t think we need to base a tax increase on a worst case scenario.”
School Board Attorney Jimmy Hood, who recommended the hiring of Tupelo attorney’s Gary Carnathan and Bill Murphree, said he felt those numbers were accurate and advised the board not to reduce them.
“Repairing buildings and litigation are always expensive and costs are uncertain,” said Coker. “We err on the high side to protect ourselves.”
School Board President Bart Munlin said the budget is a planning tool and the board could instruct the administration to reduce those numbers in the budget as presented or at some point in the 2013-14 school year.
Approximately 17-percent of Houston’s revenue budget will be raised in ad valorem taxes next year.
Ad valorem taxes are paid on homes, automobile tags, business fixtures and equipment and rental property.
State law allows trustees to raise ad valorem taxes 4-percent without a referendum. An increase of more than 4-percent requires the issue to be put to a vote, which must pass by 50-percent, plus one vote.
The ultimate taxing authority rests with the City of Houston Board of Aldermen and the Chickasaw County Board of Supervisors. Those bodies have traditionally approved school district tax increases under the 4-percent threshold. The law is also rather vague on this tax increase since it also says cities and counties must pass balanced school budgets. Not passing a tax increase could give the district a budget deficit.
Last week’s meeting was the district’s public comment meeting on the budget.
Resident Magaret Futral, a former school teacher, urged trustees to adequately fund the arts. She said a decision not to have music at the elementary level would hurt the junior and high school bands in years to come.
Houston At-Large-Alderman Barry Springer asked trustees to be “sensitive to the issue we trust you with.”
“The city is working hard to make Houston a place people and businesses want to move to and our schools play a big role in that,” said Springer. “I am not and will not tell you what to do or how to spend tax dollars, that is your job. If you tell us you need it, we’ll be down there (at City Hall) to help you get it.”
A one-mil increase in the Houston School District raised $57,000 bases on last year’s tax rolls. A one-mil increase in the City of Houston raises approximately $28,000. A one-mil increase in Chickasaw County raises approximately $90,000.