HOUSTON – Creating a budget is one of the four duties of a school board member and Houston trustees took their first look last week at how this year's budget is winding up and revenue projections for next year.
Superintendent Steve Coker offered to help trustees hammer out a budget at a special called meeting April 21. Coker is working out the last months of a contract that has seen him plan a school budget for the past 14 years.
Coker expressed his desire for trustees to fund new instruments for the band and to provide support for the Houston Solar Car team as they head to Australia. He pointed out every year the district has funds they do not spend and building money into an $14 million budget was not that difficult.
School Board President Daniel Heeringa said trustees are responsible for being more “big picture” and the district would probably be dipping into its fund balance again next year to balance the budget.
The district's non-certified employees and administrators along with teachers got raises last year and the state has not fully funded the MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program) prompting the district to have a budget deficit for 2014-15.
Coker pointed out this is an election year and lawmakers did put extra money into MAEP for 2015-16 but the actual amount Houston might receive is uncertain. A ballpark figure increase of $284,000 was projected.
The non-certified and administrative raises came from the district's fund balance and total $61,412. The district's certified employees or teachers were given a $2,500 raise to be implemented over the next two years by the Mississippi Legislature and that legislation was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant last summer.
Non-certified employees include cafeteria workers, office personnel, maintenance and custodial workers. The raises saw approximately $39,850 allocated to non-certified employees and $21,562 going into the paychecks of district administrators.
The district allocated $300,000 in reserve in this year's budget for attorney fees related to ongoing legal action with the Vo-Tech roof and Heeringa said last week the district has spent half that money. The district placed $400,000 in reserve to fix the roof if litigation fails. Trustees are seeking bids to fix the driveway around the high school, too.
Heeringa said the district is starting with expenses of $4.4 million and has projected revenues of $3.3 million.
Trustees were give a quick “big ticket list” from each school and anticipated expense increases. Schools asked for copiers, computers and classroom furniture. The high school had an estimated $95,000 increase in textbook replacement expenses.
Trustees did vote approve $22,000 for the Houston Solar Car out of this year's budget with $10,000 possibly added to the 2015-16 budget. The Solar Car team initially asked for $50,000 to be split over two years and pointed to work the Electricity Class had done for the district for a savings of $200,000.
The motion to fund Solar Car was made by Trustee Carol Byrne and seconded by Thomas Howell with Heeringa, trustees Marvin Beard and Hugh Pettit supporting the measure.
Trustees also voted to allocate $24,000 to the Houston High School Band for new instruments with the understanding the district wanted to spread out a instrument purchase program over three years. The band had initially asked for $80,000.
The motion to begin buying instruments was made by Byrne and seconded by Beard with the measure passing unanimously.