DeSoto County School District (DCS) Board of Education members have heard the district’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2020, and district officials were quick to say that Mississippi’s largest public school district will not be asking for additional millage in the coming year.
“The main thing the public needs to know is that we are not requesting an increase in ad valorem for next year,” said DCS Chief Financial Officer Stacey Graves. “We are excited about the teacher pay raise and the teacher assistant’s pay raise. It’s been a very long time in coming for the teachers and teacher assistants. DeSoto County Schools once again remains focused on classroom instruction, because 74 percent of our budget is for classroom instruction and 80 percent of all salaries, the majority of our salaries are in the classroom. We’re still trying to be as fiscally responsible as we can to work within our means but still account for the growth of DeSoto County.”
Graves’ comments came after a special meeting that was held where board members heard her detail the budget proposal for the coming fiscal year that begins July 1.
Total millage being requested for school Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 is 52.85 mills, the same amount as the current fiscal year.
Of that amount, 43.15 mills will go to operations, an increase from 40.35 mills in FY 2019, however the millage to address General Obligation Bonds will drop from 10.00 mills to 7.20 mills. Covering a three-mill note will remain at 2.50 mills.
Because of DeSoto County growth, the total budget revenue for DeSoto County Schools will increase to more than $311.189 million in the coming fiscal year. That’s up from the current fiscal year revenues of $291.815 million. More than half (55.5 percent) of that amount, about $172.79 million, will come from state revenues, 34.8 percent, or $108.428, million from local revenues and 9.7 percent from federal revenues.
DeSoto County Schools operated again this year, as every school district in the state, without the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) being completely funded. DCS was short $14.032 million this year and will be short by nearly $15.785 million in the coming fiscal year, officials said.
Total budget expenditures for DCS will amount $326.595 million, a figure adjusted for Certificates of Participation taken by the district to fund major building projects. That money comes from the maintenance budget and not from general funds, however.
“The board in April approved a Certificate of Participation which is another funding source for construction projects and renovation projects,” Graves said. “But it comes out of the district maintenance budget. There’s no levy for it, no bond or three-mill note. That’s a $55 million Certificate of Participation that we’re going to issue to help do some large scale capital projects. The resolution has been approved, but the issue will not happen until late July or early August.”
DCS will also have a fund balance reserve of 29 percent of revenues, more than a district policy requiring there be no less than 25 percent of revenues.
Pay raises of $1,500 for each teacher and teacher assistant, funded by the state legislature’s bill passage this session, are factored in. The district is also increasing its retirement contribution from 15.75 percent to 17.4 percent, along with an increase in the district’s portion of health insurance premiums.
DCS Supt. Cory Uselton pointed out that more teachers and support staff are being hired for the growing district, now estimated to have about 34,400 students.
“The board members and I are excited that we were able to hire more teachers, hire more teacher assistants, hire more guidance counselors, enhance instruction and increase safety measures with no increase to the overall millage rate,” Uselton said.
Another area the district is planning to grow is in the number of school resource officers, or SROs, located on campus.
“We have allocated more money from our district budget to go toward our local law enforcement agencies and an increased number of school resource officers,” said Uselton. “We are appreciative of our city and county leaders for their assignment of school resource officers and their willingness to assist in any matters related to school safety.”
Graves said barring any unforeseen issues, the school board will consider for approval the budget proposal at its June 20 meeting in Hernando.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.