• 59°

Oxford schools could lose money while Lafayette gets more with EdBuild proposal

By Jeff Amy

Associated Press

Lawmakers are considering a school funding proposal that could send more state money to nearly 80 percent of Mississippi’s school districts, according to an Associated Press review.

For some superintendents, the money sounds like a godsend — a way to hire more teachers, pay them more, replace rickety buses and leaking roofs, maybe even cut property taxes. But much of the new money would come from requiring property-rich districts to contribute more money to the state formula.

The findings come from calculations done by the AP using a proposal made by a consulting firm hired by top Republican lawmakers.

The 20 percent of districts that would lose money are gearing up for a fight, saying decreased funding could mean teacher layoffs or higher taxes.

Oxford School District is one of them.

According to the formula, OSD would lose a total of $3,573,231, which is about $870 per student.

“Based on these figures, we would not be able to cover the $3.6 million gap with a tax increase alone,” said OSD Superintendent Brian Harvey. “We would have to raise our millage to the maximum of 55 mills and then address the remaining deficit through personnel cuts, salary and positions.”

Harvey said if legislation is passed based on AP’s numbers, without increasing the 55 mill cap, property-rich districts may have to consider consolidation as an option.

Harvey said if legislation is passed based on AP’s numbers, without increasing the 55 mill cap, property-rich districts may have to consider consolidation as an option.

“Additionally, I am not aware of what companion bills have been filed that are related to school funding,” he said Thursday. “This is something that we should certainly be watching.”

Lafayette Schools benefit

While OSD would lose funding with the proposed school funding calculations, Lafayette County School District would gain about $1,293,624, or $478 more per student.

Lafayette County School District Superintendent Adam Pugh said he was cautiously optimistic about the funding calculations.

“I understand it’s not set in stone and they may adopt parts of it,” he said. “It would help us tremendously. There are a lot of things we could do if that became the regular funding for us.”

Pugh said the additional funds would help expand the district’s pre-k program, lower teacher-student ratio, replace old buses, add programs to help literacy amongst elementary students and more.

“I would be excited for us if that’s how the funding is done moving forward,” he said.

Until now, the debate has been muted because EdBuild, the New Jersey-based nonprofit hired as a consultant, didn’t provide statewide numbers or a district-by-district breakdown when it presented its report Jan. 16.

No calculations are written in stone yet, and lawmakers are likely to make changes. But the AP’s calculations reveal a bottom line for the state and each district publicly for the first time. They show overall funding would rise by $195 million. Surprisingly, in a climate where the state is facing budget cuts, EdBuild proposes a $75 million increase in state funding, 3 percent more than current state formula spending of $2.3 billion. The increase in local tax contributions would pull in the other $120 million.

EdBuild Executive Director Rebecca Sibilia reviewed AP’s calculations and said they are accurate assuming lawmakers make no changes, but cautioned that some changes are almost certain.

Dogged by poverty and racial inequality, Mississippi has the lowest academic performance in the nation as ranked by Education Week. Even with a higher-than-average school tax rate among states, the state’s overall poverty means it raises among the lowest amounts of money. That equals low teacher salaries, few advanced courses in rural high schools, and aging buildings.

The current formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, was supposed to ease those problems when it was passed in 1997. But it’s been a long-running source of political conflict. The current formula legally requires Mississippi to spend a certain amount each year, aiming to provide mid-level funding. But lawmakers have only fully funded it twice, and have spent $1.9 billion less than mandated levels since 2009.

Republicans criticize the current formula as outmoded and say schools waste too much money on administrators. Political clashes climaxed with a 2015 referendum seeking to amend the state Constitution to require full funding. Voters rejected the amendment at the behest of Republicans who said it undermined the Legislature’s right to control spending.

Now, Republicans want to change the formula. Top lawmakers hired EdBuild, saying they liked the nonprofit’s approach of tying dollars to the needs of individual students.

State spending under EdBuild’s proposal wouldn’t reach the amount called for by the adequate education program, but half of individual districts would reach or surpass that level.

Senior Writer Alyssa Schnugg contributed to this report.