School board responds to supervisor’s claims about district spending, says the county made an error

Published 12:10 pm Thursday, September 22, 2022

NATCHEZ — During their Wednesday meeting, the Natchez-Adams School District responded to “inaccurate or incomplete information regarding employees and budget requests” that were voiced by a county supervisor in a public forum.

Supervisor Kevin Wilson responded to an advertisement the county placed in The Natchez Democrat regarding a 1.93 mills tax increase which the county passed in its new budget for the fiscal year 2022-23.

The advertisement states the tax increase “is necessary only because of the increase funding request of the Natchez-Adams School District which by law Adams County must fund.”

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“I would be remiss in not saying something about the bottom line in the advertisement in the paper about the school district raising the mills,” Wilson said at a county meeting last week. He added, “We have seen nothing on the school’s part as far as lowering the number of people working at the school. There are over 700 people working there.”

The school board refuted these claims and also the claim that Natchez-Adams School District pays $16,000 per student per year, “from county taxpayer funds,” according to Wilson.

In response, school board member Diane Bunch read aloud a written statement from the entire Board of Trustees to meeting attendees, which was recorded for the minutes of the meeting. Read the full statement here.

“Natchez-Adams School District currently has 554 employees, both full and part-time, on its payroll,” the school board said, adding, “442 employees are paid from district maintenance funds which come from state and county funds; 115 of the 554 employees are paid through federal or state funds for federal programs, child nutrition and special education. That number includes six employees at ACCS and Cathedral paid through federal programs. For the 2020-2021 school year, there were only 579 employees on district payroll, a 4% decrease.”

The school district added, “For 2020-2021, the Mississippi Department of Education calculated the per pupil expenditure for Natchez-Adams School District at $13,018.48 which includes expenses for students in Natchez-Adams School District and special populations of students at ACCS and Cathedral.  This per pupil expenditure slightly increased due to the increased expenditures in response to the pandemic and higher per-pupil expenditures required for approximately 500 students served by special education.  In 2018-2019 prior to the pandemic, the per pupil expenditure was $11,647.45.”

The Natchez-Adams School District further states it has taken “proactive measures to ensure that all classrooms are staffed by highly qualified teachers. The recent consolidation of our two middle schools into one middle school and the consolidation of Natchez Freshmen Academy and Natchez High School into one high school has resulted in every classroom being staffed by certified teachers and a decrease in the number of teacher vacancies.”

The school district also refuted the claim that it asked for more taxes, stating that the increase from this year to next year is the result of “an accounting error by the county on mobile home properties.”

In 2021, the district’s ad valorem tax levy request was $14,237,156, which would have made up 34.1% of the district’s total budget. The district requests dollar figures in taxes which the county then converts into mills. However, the district says it collected less than that by approximately $340,000.

“This decreased request was due to an accounting error by the county on mobile home properties,” the school board said. “The tax levy request formula is based on the amount of ad valorem taxes collected the previous year from October through March.  Because of the county’s error of approximately $340,000, the ad valorem taxes collected were decreased.”

The 2023 tax levy request is $14,246,155.

“Legally, the district could have made a request for up to an additional 7% in funding. However, there were no additional funding requests made by the board of trustees. So, if we would look at the last three years without any distortions in the taxes due to county error, the tax levies would have been very comparable.”

Wilson, prior to being elected supervisor, sued the school district over the 3-mil tax increase meant to fund the building renovations to Natchez High School. The suit was reportedly dropped in 2020 when Wilson took a settlement payment of $25,000. He stated at the time the settlement when straight to attorney fees; “I never saw it,” he said.

NASD states the 3-mil request to fund the renovations for Natchez Middle School has been included in the levy request for all three years, adding the district has been able to cut operating costs and pay for the construction of the new Natchez High School using its existing budget.

“The Natchez-Adams School District Board of Trustees remains committed to being good financial stewards for the students served throughout Adams County,” the school board said. “The board has been diligent in working within the tight financial constraints caused by the pandemic and national inflation that has affected everyone’s budget, individuals and families, county and city government, and businesses. We welcome the opportunity to speak with any concerned citizens or our city and county government partners regarding the financial health of the district, factual district data or demographics, and the strategic plans that we have for the growth and progress of Natchez-Adams School District.”