Concern over needed MPS cuts, lack of funding

Concerns over needed cuts, lack of funding in MPS

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Financial cuts are on the way to the Montgomery Public school system to prevent a budget deficit. Details of the cuts are still unclear, but education leaders say they have been making adjustments for months to prepare for the next school year.

Montgomery Public Schools has made lots of financial progress.

“Right now we have a fund balance of about $36 million. We are beyond our state required fund balance," said MPS Chief Financial Officer Arthur Watts.

However, there are some hard decisions the district will have to make in the upcoming months.

“We had projected in the early part of the year that we’ll be facing a $10 million deficit. That deficit it is still there,” said Watts.

Watts says preparation is already underway.

“We asked every department who had budgets in general funds to reduce that budget by 20 or 30 percent," said Watts.

There is also work being done to develop a plan as to where the cuts will take place.

“We will look at potential consolidation of some of our administrative sites, looking at potential some schools, looking at overall staff, contracted services, all purchases. We will not take anything off the table,” said Watts.

More adjustments could have to be factored in if a 4 percent teacher pay raise was to pass through the legislature.

“As student enrollment drops, then you lose teacher units. Teacher units equal dollars," said Watts.

According to Watts, this means if MPS retained any teacher units above the state funded units the system would have to cover that cost.

“We’ll have to pay from the local dollars not only salaries of those individuals, but also the raise increase," said Watts.

Montgomery County School Board Jannah Bailey of District 5 says the solution is simple.

“Our system needs more money," said Bailey.

Just four months in this role, Bailey has learned lots about MPS finances.

“There are millions of dollars that need to go in, just to maintenance," said Bailey.

This is why Bailey is in support of a millage increase.

“It is probably 30 years overdue," said Bailey. “We have a great community and I know that we can support that.”

Montgomery County’s ad valorem taxes benefiting schools are among the lowest in the state. Currently, MPS is funded at 10 mills, the minimum required by the state. MPS is larger than systems like Shelby County, Huntsville, and Birmingham City, but receiving less property tax dollar revenue.

“That is the biggest problem we have now. A schools district our size in an urban area. It is not in comparison with other schools with similar demographics,” said Watts.

According to the Alabama Department of Revenue, Birmingham City Schools collected 24 mills last year - less students than MPS, but more than double the dollars.

Both Bailey and Watts says there is one motivation in moving MPS forward.

“Our kids deserve better," said Bailey.

“It will be necessary for MPS to be able to offer the instructional programs it needs to offer," said Watts. “We want to do what we need to do for our students. Our students deserve the same opportunities students and other areas have. We have to support our students.”

Bailey pointed out that it seems like everyone on the board is on the same page with the property tax increase. The board is expected to vote on hiring a tax attorney who has handled this situation in other districts. This would be part of the preliminary work done before a formal request is made.

Dr. Ann Roy Moore, MPS superintendent, is expected to deliver a plan regarding cuts to the board and to the public soon.

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