Superintendent Of Biloxi Schools Sees Short-Term Casino Benefits

TEACHERS in the 7,000-student Biloxi Public School District got a pay raise both this year and last year, thanks to an influx of tax dollars from casino gambling.

``We've seen nothing but good come out of it,'' says Virgel Fulcher, principal of Beauvoir Elementary School in Biloxi. ``We've been able to buy things and do things that we never would have been able to do before.''

Mississippi's school system is consistently rated as one of the most underfunded and underachieving in the United States. But districts along the state's Gulf Coast are taking advantage of this newfound money to help boost their sagging schools.

``I'm not a gambler,'' says Buddy Strickland, superintendent of schools in Biloxi. ``But I take no stand one way or another. It's a hot political topic right now. Some of the school districts adjacent to us look at the money we're getting and would like to get in on it themselves.''

The city of Biloxi takes in 3.5 percent of the total tax revenue from casino gambling, and the school district receives 20 percent of those funds. Since August 1992, the school system's portion has amounted to $2.6 million, says Mayor A.J. Holloway. That's more than double the revenue expected.

Superintendent Strickland calls the new revenue ``soft money that can never be counted on to last.'' So he's using the funds for capital improvements: the renovation of school buildings, investments in technology and supplies, and other one-time expenditures.

Meanwhile, the school district is handling an increasing number of new students brought in by parents seeking job opportunities at the casinos.

At the state level, Mississippi education officials are flush with funds for the first time in the state's history. Education spending is expected to increase by nearly $270 million next year. Part of that money will be spent on teacher-training programs and a new assessment system, officials say.

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