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Five reasons Jackson voters should reject tax hike for failing JPS district

DECLINE: The Jackson Public School District has seen a steep decline in its enrollment since 2005. Graph by Steve Wilson

Today voters in Jackson will be going to the polls to decide whether to approve a $65 million bond issue to help the Jackson Public School District with its maintenance woes.

Here are five reasons why Jackson voters should reject the bond issue:

It's a Tax increase

The bond issue is a tax increase and proponents are using semantics to justify it. If the tax isn't approved, property taxes for Jackson residents will decrease five mills (millage is expressed as per $1,000 dollars of property value). If the tax is approved, the tax rate will remain the same. A more accurate way to describe the election is voters are deciding whether to keep taxes the same rate or give citizens a much-needed tax cut.

Speaking of that, Jackson residents pay the highest property tax rates in the state to support their local school district. Look at the data from the Mississippi Department of Revenue. Jackson residents pay 84.01 mills to support the JPS, which is more than Hinds County schools (67.05 mills), Clinton schools (67.94 mills), Rankin County schools (56.55 mills), Pearl schools (60.40 mills), Madison County schools (54.55 mills) and Canton schools (58.25 mills).

And that's not just for property, but license plates as well. If you wonder why license plates in the Jackson city limits are more expensive than rural Hinds County or neighboring counties, there's your answer.

Poor stewardship of taxpayer property

JPS officials have spent slightly more than 3 percent annually on building-related costs that include maintenance, improvements and operational costs such as utilities since 2008, with a high of 3.57 percent in 2014 and two lows of 3.05 percent in 2008 and in 2016. That adds up to an average of $9,716,933 annually from an annual budget that averages $207,570,961.

Other districts with far newer infrastructure and less students spend a greater percentage of their total budgets on maintenance than the JPS, which will spend 14.46 percent total if the operations/plant maintenance outlay is added to the building maintenance outlay.

In comparison, Rankin County spent 16.7 percent of its $257,789,671 budget on maintenance for its more than $131 million worth of buildings and facilities.

A good way to look at maintenance is like shaving. When you miss a day or two, it's noticeable. Deferring needed maintenance today might save money in the short term, but will be foolish since repairs will be far more costly in the long run.

Bloated Administration

Why has the district scrimped for years on maintaining its infrastructure? The district has a bloated central office with 265 employees, far outstripping neighboring districts in terms of the ratios between central office administrators and students. For example, DeSoto County has 141 front office employees with several thousand more students than the JPS and it earned an A rating from the Mississippi Department of Education's annual accountability grades.

According to the blog Jackson Jambalaya, only 40 percent of JPS employees are teachers. The district spends only 46.7 percent of its budget on instruction last year, in marked contrast to DeSoto County, which spent more than 70 percent.

Poor performance

For two consecutive years, JPS has flunked in the annual MDE accountability grades. The JPS was third from the bottom of the state's 147 school districts with half of its schools listed as failing by the MDE in the last accountability grades. While the Better Together Committee is working on a plan to fix issues with the JPS, expecting a miracle might be asking too much.

Since 2011 when the MDE switched to a letter grade system for its accountability scores, the JPS has scored no higher than a D.

One reason might be the JPS' lack of spending on instruction. From 2008 to 2018, the district has spent only 43 percent of its annual budgets on instruction.

In terms of real dollars, the Rankin County School District has outspent JPS on instruction despite a smaller enrollment — 19,314 students vs. 25,595 for JPS. In 2017, Rankin County spent $101,420,487 on instruction, while the JPS spent $89,646,903.

This year, JPS spent $84,395,601 on instruction, while Rankin County spent $104,404,064. For those keeping score at home, that adds up to $5,405 per student in Rankin County spent on instruction, while JPS spent only $3,297 per student.

more money, worse results

The JPS is spending more money to educate fewer students. Since 2005, the district has lost 21 percent of its student population, shrinking from 32,403 students in 2005 to 25,595 now. In the 2016-2017 school year with 26,948 students, the district spent $7,756 per. This year, the district spent $8,068 per student.

In 2013, the district received $193 million from state and local property taxes and had a student population of 29,488. This year, that number has only shrunk to more than $192 million despite having 3,893 fewer students.

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