For the first time in nearly a decade, the Columbus Municipal School District is ending its fiscal year in the black.
Nine of the past 10 years, the district has declared a shortfall, but this year, ad valorem tax collections for Fiscal Year 2011-2012 exceeded the district’s request by $87,311, Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Hughes told the board of trustees during Monday night’s monthly meeting.
“Hallelujah!” Board President Tommy Prude responded when Hughes announced the end-of-year surplus.
“God is good, isn’t he?” Hughes replied.
The board approved a $40.5 million budget last month but struggled to keep their tax request near last year’s level to avoid a millage increase for taxpayers. Their request, which must be submitted to the Columbus City Council by Wednesday, will total $13,158,956. Last year, they requested $13,046,187.
By state law, the council is required to levy the millage necessary to provide their requested sum. As the city population decreases, the value of a mill drops. In 2011-2012, one mill equaled $205,000. Lowndes County Tax Assessor Greg Andrews projects one mill will equal $203,000 for the upcoming fiscal year.
It will take some finagling to make the numbers work, Hughes and Prude admitted. This year’s request assumes an additional $49,000 reduction in the district’s general operating fund, but they have not yet determined where cuts will be made.
Still, the district is facing a “rosy” scenario this year, Prude said after the meeting.
“It was desperation last year,” he said. “We’re very optimistic. Now the future’s looking brighter.”
In other news, the board voted 4-0 to apply for a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education for the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program, which aims to develop and improve literacy skills for children in pre-kindergarten through grade 12.
USDE will award grants between $150,000 and $750,000 to 30 high-need educational agencies nationwide.
If CMSD receives the grant, it will be used to offer after-school reading programs, keep school libraries open on Saturdays and purchase Kindle e-readers and Apple iPads for students.
As districts across the state prepare for next year’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards curriculum, the reading emphasis will shift toward resource materials and nonfiction, said Dr. Timothy Wilcox, principal of Cook Elementary Fine Arts Magnet School.
He believes it will be cheaper to purchase classroom sets of e-readers, updating subscriptions as necessary, rather than purchasing textbooks, which quickly become outdated.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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