HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg City Council received official numbers from the Hattiesburg Public School District after last year's financial struggles, allowing council members to see trends in district spending.
"I was very curious about what the figures would show because I know the district's year ended with a lot of financial concerns," said Mary Dryden, council vice president.
One area of note for Dryden was pension spending. Last year's audit shows a 160 percent increase in pension expense and 33 percent increase - from $51 million to $67.9 million - in net pension liability or a bigger difference between the money owed to a retiree and the actual money available to pay them.
"My thought is that may indicate that they're bringing back employees who have retired," Dryden said. "We've been asked to look at that as municipalities because sometimes that that can drain the (Public Employees' Retirement System). It often does. I'm totally in favor of people retiring and then working again. Work is a good thing for people. We just need to be very careful with our PERS system."
Dryden said PERS has been a good pension plan teachers, and she wants to be sure they continue to benefit from that retirement fund.
"If we have people retire and then we bring them back to work again and they're back in the PERS system, then apparently that's creating a pension liability," Dryden said.
The audit states the district had $36.3 million in revenues and $35.7 million in expenditures in 2016. Dryden said a successful school district is essential for a successful city, and good financial management is key for both.
"When businesses come to a community, the first thing they look at is safety, and the second thing is the public school system," Dryden said. "When I was a student in the Hattiesburg Public Schools, we had a phenomenal school system, and we had just the best teachers you could find. We still have good teachers in our school system. We still have this wonderful city that needs to meet the needs of our children. I want to make sure that we have a very strong, viable public school system. It's a huge factor in our community. I was in the public schools. My children were. I want our future generations to know that they can count on getting an excellent, first-class education right here in the public schools of Hattiesburg. If the funds are not managed well, then we can't have a viable school system. So that's extremely important."