Property owners in DeSoto County will be glad to know the public school district portion of their next property tax bill will not take a larger bite than before. At the same time, teachers and teacher assistants in Mississippi’s largest school district will see another increase in their paychecks during the 2021-22 year.
That is what the DeSoto County School District is proposing in its budget plan presented during a public hearing Thursday afternoon, June 3 in Hernando.
The millage request to the county for the school portion of property taxes will remain the same at 52.85 mills for the next fiscal year, set to begin on July 1.
Of that figure, there will be an increase in millage to operations, from 47.32 mills to 49.85 mills, and there will be a slight increase of millage to pay off a three-mill note, from 2.50 mills to 3.00 mills.
The difference will come in that there is no further servicing of a general obligation bond that previously took 3.03 mills out of the total mills collected. That money is now dispersed to cover the increased askings in operations and in the three-mill note.
The local supplement for teacher and teacher assistant pay during the next school year is increasing with plans to increase it some more in the future. Teachers in the district will see their compensation rise by $1,400, between what the state has provided in passing a $1,000 pay raise, as well as an additional $400 from the district for the local supplement.
Assistants employed by DCS will see a $1,000 state pay raise and an additional $200 of local supplement money for a total of $1,200 additional in their paychecks next school year.
“We want to continue to build upon that in the years to come,” said Supt. Cory Uselton Thursday following the meeting. “We wanted to budget strategically so we can continue to add to the local teaching supplement.”
During the regular board meeting Thursday afternoon, Board President Michelle Henley added an announcement to thank and benefit all school staff for their hard work during the past school year.
“We voted to give eight hours of personal discretionary leave to our teachers and staff for the phenomenal job they’ve done in the last year in keeping us in business, keeping our doors open, and keeping our students in school,” Henley said. “We wanted to commend everyone for a job well done for this year. Your hard work has not gone unnoticed. Thank you for everything you do.”
The eight additional hours of personal discretionary leave may be used as the teacher or staff member sees fit during the 2021-22 school year.
In commenting on the budget proposal after its presentation Thursday afternoon, Uselton mentioned ESSER funding, federal money which is coming to the district as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic federal response.
ESSER, or Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Act funds, are dollars allocated to state education agencies and then divided from there to local districts. The money is meant to address the effects of the pandemic on education.
DeSoto County Schools will receive more than $52.98 million in ESSER funds for the 2021-22 year.
The money, part of the federal CARES Act is, in part, meant to address perceived learning loss by students in the past year because they were not in classrooms but were learning virtually from home. DCS plans to use a share of its allocation for 78 learning loss assistants and 78 part-time learning loss teachers. DCS is required to spend a percentage of their ESSER funds for that purpose.
It will also cover the cost of summer school for all grades through high school, an English Language Learning Loss Camp, and set aside $18 per student in the district to cover technology additions.
“This is money that we are very strategic in how it is spent,” Uselton said. “We want to make sure that we are taking care of academic needs first. We also are taking care of facility needs and we are also taking care of technology needs.”
ESSER funds will also cover HVAC replacement at 22 schools and the move from water fountains to water bottle filling stations as a health safety response.
On the facility side, DCS plans to add more classrooms in the next school year, using certificates of participation to cover additions to Southaven Intermediate, Center Hill High School and Elementary School, and Lake Cormorant Middle School. There are also plans for a building at Lake Cormorant High School for the Marine Corps JROTC program, and roof replacement projects planned at Walls Elementary, Olive Branch Middle, Southaven Intermediate, and at Center Hill Elementary, all funded with certificates of participation.
Limited tax notes would fund additional school buses, land for a planned new Hernando High School, DeSoto Central Middle classroom additions and cafeteria expansion, and expansion of the cafeteria at DeSoto Central High School.
In addressing technology, Uselton said the district wants to upgrade all of its computers in the classroom.
“We want all of our computers, starting in August, to all be less than one year old and then we will also budget ESSER money so we will be able to replenish all of these computers in three years. We want to make sure we maintain our devices and we know those devices will be obsolete in a few years.”
Uselton called the budget proposal “student-centered.” The move to hire school nurses for each campus last year will continue in the next fiscal year and the district continues its commitment to school security through its partnership with DeSoto County and municipal law enforcement for school resource officers.
“My thoughts on budgeting is that we always have to budget as if that rainy day is just around the corner,” Uselton said. “We never know from year to year what revenues will look like and COVID was a great example of something none of us ever anticipated. We want to budget in a way that when the rainy day does come we are financially stable and we can weather any type of storm that does come along.”
The FY 2021-22 budget is scheduled to be adopted at the board meeting of June 17 at Central Services in Hernando.