Recently a survey was released that Cleveland School District participated in by the Mississippi Education Reform Collaborative and it shed some light on how budget cuts have been affecting schools in Mississippi.
According to the survey, "Three years of budget reductions have forced Mississippi school districts to eliminate positions, draw down operating fund reserves and increase class sizes."
Cleveland School District Superintendent Jackie Thigpen has big plans for the district if the funds were available.
"If funds were available, we would hire music and art teachers, reading coaches, math coaches, and an interventionist for each school. These would all be certified staff persons. We would also hire additional teachers in the core subject area so that we can reduce class sizes. Social workers and additional nurses would be also be hired. We currently have no social workers and two nurses serving twelve facilities," said Thigpen.
Five districts were surveyed, including Cleveland School District, and in all, the five districts reported more than $6.6 million in state and federal funding reductions in the past three years.
According to the survey, all districts eliminated teacher positions due to funding reductions.
All districts have eliminated some student support services because of funding reductions.
All districts reported a need to modernize facilities.
The Cleveland School District has received increases in state funding in the past three years, but federal funds have been cut by $2.6 million.
Despite these cuts the Cleveland School District still maintains high testing scores.
Thigpen said, "ACT scores have actually increased. Our district’s composite average in 2012 was 17.0. Our average in 2013 was 18.0. The state average was 18.9 in 2013."
The district also is in its last year of funding through the Magnet Schools of America and will have to absorb the loss of those funds.
According to the survey, "These particular districts, as members of the Mississippi Education Reform Collaborative, have identified recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers as their number one priority, according to the information provided by the survey."
The need for teachers is necessary according to Thigpen, who says their ideal class sizes aren't met.
"Ideal class size in lower elementary would be 20 students. On average most classes are now 25. Ideal class size in high school would be 25 or less, but some classes have 30 plus students enrolled. The maximum number in high school is 33," said Thigpen.
Despite the funding cuts, Thigpen has plans just in case there are more reductions.
"We hope to receive an increase in the amount of funds we receive from state federal and local sources. If the decrease continues, the district will be forced to draw from the fund balance.
"The district continues to seek grants from various agencies and organizations to assist in providing the best for our students. Our Booster Clubs and PTA’s, PTSA also assist in providing equipment. Several have bought computers, cameras, and other equipment to assist," said Thigpen.
The purpose of the survey was to show "how students and classrooms have been impacted by underfunding MAEP," how these districts "might use additional resources to accelerate achievement in their district if only they had them," and to show "their frustration and pain as they are expected and required to do more with less."
After making these points by participating in the survey, Thigpen said she remains dedicated to the students and also said, "We are committed to providing the best education to all of our students. We are also committed to spending what we have wisely. Every decision made is in the best interest of the students."