The Columbus Municipal School District continued to tweak its budget this week, holding a press conference at the Brandon central office, to present a cost-savings report, Tuesday afternoon.
Board President Glenn Lautzenhiser said he wanted to “clear up some misunderstandings,” stressing that the budget is not yet finalized. A final budget must be presented to the Columbus City Council by Aug. 15.
Last week, the district met sharp criticism after releasing its proposed $43.5 million budget, which would require $14.33 million in ad valorem taxes — a 9-mill tax increase — according to CMSD chief financial officer Kenneth Hughes.
Lautzenhiser said there is “no way” the board will ask for funding that would require that much of a tax increase.
“If there is a mill increase, it”s going to be very modest in nature,” Lautzenhiser said.
According to Mississippi State Code, school boards do not directly set millage. Instead, they request money from the levying authority — in Columbus” case, the City Council — which then calculates the millage rate necessary to provide the funding the board has requested.
The council is required to set the millage to meet at least 4 percent of the previous year”s ad-valorem effort. More than 4 percent, but less than 7 percent, requires public notice by the school board. More than 7 percent would require a public referendum.
The board released a statement of proposed cuts, which they say would save approximately $602,100.
Some of the changes include dropping recruiting firm Ray and Associates for the superintendent search and hiring the Mississippi School Boards Association instead.
The board hired the Iowa-based firm in June based on a $15,500 proposal, rejecting MSBA”s $9,500 proposal.
Hughes said Wednesday morning that he had initially budgeted a total of $40,000 for the superintendent search, but according to the report issued Tuesday, they have dropped that cost by $30,000.
“We just feel their fee is much less, and the expenses will be much less (with MSBA),” Lautzenhiser said. “I don”t think we”re lessening the quality.”
He said there was no charge by Ray and Associates for pulling out of the contract or any services performed so far.
The largest chunk of savings comes from dropping the extended school year pilot program at Sales and Stokes-Beard elementary schools, which was federally funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and would have cost $200,000 to maintain.
Approximately $285,000 in savings are the result of staff attrition. Athletics programs also saw reductions, with cuts being made to the golf, swimming, slow pitch softball and cross country programs.
But Hughes said this morning that he does not expect the cost-savings report to affect the budget the board ultimately presents to the council. While the board has not determined the ad-valorem request it will make, he expects that the overall $43.5 million budget, presented at a public hearing last week, will remain the same, with cuts continuing to be made throughout the year.
“This is a year-long process,” Hughes said. “It”s a road map … a guide … a fluid instrument.”
District officials said they would put the complete budget on the district website — columbuscityschools.org — sometime today.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.