A man applies a new Cleveland Central High logo to the side of the school.


CLEVELAND — Cleveland School District is anticipating a half a million dollar shortfall due to declining enrollment and is considering layoffs of administrative staff as a possible solution. The district has lost 100 students in its first year of consolidation under a federal desegregation order.

“We’re going to have to really look hard and basically personnel is the place where we spend most of our money. So we’re going to have to collectively get together and really give it a hard look,” business manager Cindy Holtz said in a school board meeting Friday.

The school district receives about $5,200 per student from Mississippi Department of Education, Holtz said. The enrollment decline will lead to a nearly $500,000 deficit for academic year 2018-2019.

The 100 student loss accounts for about three percent of the district’s total student population. With a $15,559,673 allocation from MDE for fiscal year 2018, $500,000 would represent about three percent of the district’s current budget.

“We’ll take that into consideration prior to issuing contracts for next year. We’ll have to do a reduction in force,” said board member Richard Boggs.

“Probably,” superintendent Jackie Thigpen replied. 

Cleveland School District Superintendent Jacquelyn Thigpen

Academic year 2017-2018 marked the beginning of a new era for the school district and the town of Cleveland when the predominantly African-American East Side High School merged with Cleveland High School, which was 60 percent African-American and 40 percent white, to form the new Cleveland Central High School. Middle schools on the opposite ends of town were also merged to form Cleveland Central Middle School.

A desegregation lawsuit brought against the Bolivar County Board of Education in 1955 initiated the litigation which went on for 62 years before a federal judge ordered the consolidation.

Cleveland School District initially fought the decision, but eventually dropped all appeals.

“We kept every teacher on from one year to the next because of the situation we were under and they were under. Now we’ve got a reduction in moneys, we’ll have to have a reduction in personnel. That’s the only place you can really cut,” Boggs said.

Boggs also said that the last place that should experience personnel cuts is the classroom.

Enrollment for Cleveland School District has been moving in a downward trend.

In the Summer of 2014, a federal appellate court overturned U.S. District Judge Glen Davidson’s order, which said that the schools did not have to consolidate.

An analysis of the enrollment numbers indicated that more white students left Cleveland School District than African-American students, and more than half of the students who left before this current school year went to private schools.

Cleveland is not the only school district to experience enrollment drops.

In January, North Bolivar Consolidated School District announced that it would close two of its schools, citing a loss of 345 students since 2014 as one of the reasons why.

“I hope we’ve got some stuff in place to really evaluate our student retention and what we’re doing to keep kids. Because that’s half a million (dollars lost) to start off with, that’s just the jumping off place,” said board member Todd Fuller.  

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Kelsey Davis Betz is from Mobile, Ala., and currently lives in Cleveland, where she worked as a Mississippi Delta-based reporter covering education and intersecting issues. Kelsey has a dual degree in journalism and Spanish from Auburn University and worked as an editorial intern at Texas Monthly and a courts reporter at the Montgomery Advertiser. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report and is a co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.