The Webster County School District is among financially sound Mississippi school districts, according to an Associated Press analysis
The AP reported earlier this week that its analysis of Mississippi Department of Education data found that at least 18 of the state’s 152 school districts might not have enough money to cover a cut in state funding.
Those districts could be forced to borrow money, cut services or raise taxes to make up the difference.
Gov. Phil Bryant wants districts to dip into their bank accounts to make up a $72.9 million cut in state funding. That works out to a cut of just under $150 a student.
On Dec. 31, 11 districts reported a negative balance, which typically means they borrowed money to tide them over into the next year. Another seven districts had less than $150 per student in reserve. None of those 18 include the WCSD.
The state formula calls for combined state and local funding of $5,015 per student this year, although most local districts add local taxes. Bryant’s proposed cut works out to 3.7 percent of this year’s state contribution.
All school districts keep money in a maintenance fund, which functions something like a checking account. The fund swells when districts receive property tax payments early in the calendar year. Schools then live off those sums the rest of the year.
AP used Dec. 31 for its analysis to examine which districts would fare worst if state money is cut.
On average, districts have $923 per student in the bank. On a per-student basis, Webster ranks No. 100, with $593.
Bryant, like predecessor Haley Barbour, describes the money as “reserves,” which makes superintendents recoil.
State school officials say districts were advised to save money in 2010, when they received an unexpected windfall from federal stimulus funding. But not all districts did so.
To aid broke districts, Bryant would add $6 million to a state emergency loan program. But special aid for broke districts is likely to make other school systems unhappy.
“You penalize people who have been good financial managers,” said House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville.
The AP analysis found no link between a district’s financial condition and other measurable factors, including:
• Percentage of impoverished students in a district, as measured by those eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
• Percentage of enrollment made up of non-white students.
• Number of students attending class in a district.
• Academic performance, as measured by the state’s quality distribution index.