Heather Black

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The Amory School District Work Through Financial Difficulties

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AMORY, Miss. (WCBI)-It’s one of the most complicated jobs in local government. Balancing the demand for high-quality schools with how to pay for it. And with millage rates and property values and a million bureaucratic strings, the financial management can be mind boggling. And hardly a school district around hasn’t run into financial problems trying to reach the proper balance.

“This school district is the center piece of Amory,” says Tony Cook.

Superintendent Tony Cook expresses the importance of providing funding for schools throughout the community. But what the community hasn’t realized until budget planning this summer is that the school district was almost broke and under pressure from the state to get its financial house in order.

“The state has under-funded us a little bit over the years and everything kind of added up to some issues we’ve addressed that’s all old news we’re going to move on,” says Cook.

Okolona, Aberdeen, Oktibbeha County and Columbus are just a few of the districts who’ve faced tough financial hurdles in the last few years. This year, Amory has had to take some pretty serious steps to offset the lack of full funding from the state, stagnant property values and an unwillingness to raise taxes for years and years. Even the property tax request is changing this year.

“We’ve asked for a seven percent increase this year. We’ve asked for new property taxes. We’ve asked for new programs money we’ve asked for short fall note,” says Cook.

It’ll mean higher property taxes for property owners but it also means locals stay in control. The district even received a grant from the Gilmore Foundation that will be a local version of a financial manager.

“The Amory School District came to us a couple of weeks ago exposing the financial issues that they had and they needed funds to get the school year started. We granted a $178,000  to them it is a non-refundable payable grant. It’s not a loan to allow the school to open and to function,” says Danny Spreitler.

The terms of the grant will hold the district accountable while they work through their financial difficulties.

“It’s a double edge sword. Number one it will help them because we needed to get our schools open be able to conduct the school year. We owe that to our children, but it exposes a very raw nerve in our community when you find out that our pride and joy; which is our school systems are in financial trouble and that’s hard to swallow in this community. Based on what we saw we established an accountability model for the school to them accepting the grant,” says Spreitler.

It also means monthly reports on a variety of financial issues and better spending controls.

One condition of the grant includes Superintendent Cook meet quarterly with the Mayor, the school board president and the director of the Gilmore Foundation.