School board to discuss shortfall

Friday, June 11, 2010

Discussion of next year's budget is sure to consume a lot of time at next Monday's school board meeting. The gap between budgeted expenditures and estimated revenue is currently $748,000, according to budget committee chairwoman Kristen Gold's introduction to a board work session on the budget last week.

That money could come out of fund balance, if the County commission would approve it, but board member Craig Michael called the chances of that happening "close to zero."

Schools director Roy Dukes said he heard from commission chairman Billy Spivey that the schools might be asked to cut four percent from the County-funded portion of their budget, in spite of the state requirement for "maintenance of effort."

"If we have to cut four percent it would guarantee the County would never recover," exclaimed Gold.

Michael agreed with her, predicting such cuts would do "irreparable harm" to the school system.

"If we're going to cut and hurt children, we've lost our core purpose," concluded chairman Mike Keny. "We're as bare bones as we can go."

Nevertheless, board members did try to find places to cut the budget.

Among suggestions was "scaling back the alternative school" from Randy Perryman. Schools director Roy Dukes said that, hopefully, they could reduce the number of teachers from three to two, or even one teacher and one aide.

Supervisor of secondary instruction Beverly Miller explained that before the alternative school started last year, there was an alternative program that kept the County in compliance with state law, but it did not have a place for Zero Tolerance students. This past year, the alternative school served 25 pupils, seven of them Zero Tolerance, "generated $35,000 and really helped the drop-out rate."

"The per-pupil expenditure in alternative school is many times higher than in the system as a whole," Michael said. "If we go back to the bare minimum and if that gives us $200,000 for the rest of the students -- that's an easy decision."

Barbara Kennedy recommended cutting out Drivers Education, and also wanted to take a close look at class size.

"We can't have classes with 10 students," Kennedy said.

"If you increase the pupil-teacher ratio, you do away with teachers' positions," Keny pointed out.

"What happens if we get an influx of students in August?" asked Dukes.

"The alternative school should go before we cut class size," said Perryman. "We need to exhaust every opportunity to cut outside the classroom."

"I agree," Michael said. "We've got to talk about options and select some, but we've got to make the cuts as far from the classroom as we can."

He told other board members how local manufacturer Walker Die Casting had their employees take days off without pay.

"It's something we could look at from the classified standpoint," Michael said. "We have 300 classified personnel -- that's about $30,000 a day, so we'd be saving a job for every day the whole group took off."

Kennedy suggested cutting 12-month employees down to 11 months. "That's a substantial chunk of change," she said.

The budget work session lasted nearly three hours, and in the end, board members again appealed to Dukes to meet with his supervisors and principals and come up with a prioritized list of cuts. Dukes is meeting with principals this week, and promised he would have some ideas to present at the Board's June 14 meeting.

"It's important there be public discussion," concluded Michael. "The community has to understand the financial challenges we have."