HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg Public School District is planning more cuts to stay afloat and is explaining how it ended up in a dire financial situation.
"I think that we've had a little bit of an issue understanding that this is fiscal woe is real," said Greg Ladner, interim superintendent for the district. "I wouldn't want to go so far as to say we were denial, but I think now we're starting to understand the realities of it."
Ladner said there will be more cuts to staff and salaries.
"We are top, middle and bottom heavy," he said. "I wouldn't want to point to one particular area, but across the board, we're a little heavy in our employee numbers."
Ladner said principals and administrators will have a 5 percent salary decrease, and teacher contracts will be shortened by one day.
Jas N Smith, public relations specialist for the district, said contracts will decrease from 188 day to 187 days. Smith said that means paychecks will be cut by about $19 per month.
"Right now, I am preliminarily saying that we have approximately 30 to 60 too many employees if you look at our student enrollment," Lander said. "When you're sitting here talking about roughly a $35 million to $40 million, and you say that 85 percent of that budget is made up of salaries and fringes, it would be a lot better if you could say about 75 percent of that budget was made up. On a percentage, we're a little on the high side."
Ladner said the district's enrollment has decreased since 2013, but said salaries and employment have increased during the same time.
"We're decreasing at an increasing rate. Salaries and numbers of employees have gone up," he said. "When they maybe should have been going down and adjusting with declining enrollment, they were going the opposite direction. That's not a good human resource practice."
Extracurricular activity spending is also being cut, especially for programs that travel, like the Hattiesburg High School Forensics.
"Oh I was devastated because the three children that I had in the program, they have gained so much from it," former Forensics parent Lucy Shows said. "Their communication skills, their confidence level. All my children are successful, and I think partly in due to this program."
Ladner said, "No one wants to see our students and children no be exposed as they have in the past, but from the district's standpoint, it would be extremely difficult for us to justify spending monies on those things when we have some really bare necessity issue that need to be addressed. Water's flowing. Lights are on. Just these essential things. I'm not sure everyone understands how very, very close we have come in the past couple of months to needing some type of state assistance."
Ladner said the district's general fund balance is currently between $400,000 and $500.000, and that money must last the district through June 30 to prevent the state from stepping in. Ladner said the district should receive the biggest infusion of tax dollars in February and March, and said that should help boost the budget.
While the immediate goal is keeping the district afloat for the next four months, Ladner said stricter financial practices will stay in place to build the budget back up.
"We'll probably try to shoot for about a three or four year plan which brings back our fund balance to around $5 million," Ladner said. "Since we borrowed $7 million at the beginning of this year, we will have to borrow a similar amount going into next year with the notion that one day we'll build our fund balance back up over time to where we most certainly do not need to borrow that much money. With that in mind, getting through this school year to June 30, but also I'm going to say next three years most specifically, maybe even four, need to have a plan. We're devising that right now. We're crunching those numbers, and we're coming up with, most certainly, a short range to make it to June 30. But also, this goes right on into the next school year."