Little: Education Faces Crisis

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At a meeting of local government leaders, Lauderdale County superintendent David Little reviewed what he sees as potential problems for education, if it's funded below the budget that has already been set.

"According to MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program) we should be getting, Lauderdale County schools should be getting, these are rough numbers, about $26.6 million for 2004-2005," said Little.

"According to the joint Legislative Budget Committee recommendations, we're going to get about $23.6 million. That's about $3 million short."

Little said $1.5 million for the teacher pay raise will come out of that money, leaving county schools short of the planned budget by $4.5 million.

"That doesn't include any raises for bus drivers, our cafeteria workers, our custodians, any of our administrators or anything else," Little said.

The superintendent said Lauderdale County schools have cut eight positions in the central office to save money. State Rep. Greg Snowden agreed there is a problem.

"The truth is last year's pay raise was funded with this year's money and with next year's money," Snowden said. "That's just the truth. It was an election year and that's what happened and it was not a situation that can be repeated."

Little indicated that, without more state funding, a local increase in school taxes might be necessary.

"Right now, we're at 43.3 mills so we've got some flexibility but Meridian is capped out at about 55 mills," said Little. "I feel pretty sure it's not going to be as bad as it is now. If it is as bad as the Legislative Budget Committee recommended, we'll be in bad shape."

The superintendent said if a tax increase is necessary it would be the "kiss of death" for a proposed bond issue for school repairs.