WINONA – The Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District school board voted to request an increase in ad valorem funding in the amount of $295,000 for the 2019-2020 school year. The increase will be used to fund hiring two school resource officers and a planned objective to increase student proficiency, particularly in third grade reading.
The measure passed 3 to one, with Brandye Brannon, Mark Middleton, and Matt Surrell voting for the increase and Jill White casting the dissenting vote. Board member Cheryl Small was not present at last Tuesday’s meeting.
According to Amanda Gray, the district’s business manager, the funding request will raise school millage from 49.18 mils to 50 mils. The increase will fund the hiring of two school resource officers and the necessary equipment required at $110,000, with the remaining $185,000 going toward a plan to improve student proficiency.
Gray said the increase equals approximately $49 per year for a home assessed at $100,000.
According to Gray, the state underfunded the district approximately $1 million, based on the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula. In addition, the state has made cuts during the school year after the approved budget was in place.
When Winona Separate School District and the Montgomery County School District consolidated last fall, the school board voted to closed Montgomery County High School and Montgomery County Elementary School in an effort to cut expenses. Dr. Teresa Jackson said the majority of the money saved was put into the district’s fund balance, the equivalent to a rainy day fund. The state mandates every school district have three percent of the district’s revenue be placed in the fund balance. However, it is the policy of the Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District that seven percent of the revenues be saved.
Currently, the district has $3.4 million in its fund balance, made up of a combination of the two individual districts’ fund balances as well as the savings from closing the schools.
Jackson said having a healthy fund balance is important, not only to cover the cost of an emergency like replacing a roof or an HVAC unit, but to fund long-term goals of the district.
“I’d like for the board to set goals now that we have a healthy fund balance,” Jackson said.
Jackson said, due to past experience, she is also concerned the state could make mid-year funding cuts that could require the district to tap into its savings to pay for planned expenses and payroll.
“Last year and the year before, we had five cuts,” Jackson said. “Basically, they said, ‘We promised you this money, but you can’t have it.’”
Gray provided the board the option of funding just the school resource officers for $110,000, however, Middleton and Surrell said the district needed to formulate a plan of action to address student proficiency, especially in in third grade reading.
“We need to do something to improve the third grade reading program,” Middleton said. “I want us to be the best in the state. We need to get these children at grade level.”
In a previous discussion, White said she was against any kind of increase in ad valorem taxes.
“The taxpayers are already strapped,” she said.
Middleton made the motion to request an increase in funding this year, and the measure passed.
After the budget was adopted, the school board held a workshop to discuss improving student proficiency and operating an efficient school district in the future.
According to Jackson, the board set four goals in which to focus in the future.
1. Raising student achievement.
2. Maintaining a safe and orderly school climate.
3. Positive K-12 educational experience.
4. Maintain a yearly financial fund balance of 12 percent of revenue.
“The board outlined their commitment to the academic success of the district,” Jackson said. “They have asked me to work with the leadership team to come up with a plan.”
Jackson said the leadership team is exploring with several possible avenues to improve student proficiency, which could include funding education resources like computer programs or specialized instructors. They even discussed formal training for the district’s education assistants.
Jackson said other ideas included funding the registration for students to take the ACT more than just once, providing teachers with test banks full of practice assessments, and others.
“We are having the principals come up with plans for student improvement,” Jackson said. “That is where we will look at spending that money.”