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BOE: Expect deep cuts

The question facing the Decatur County Board of Education is not “do we cut?” but “what do we cut, and how deep?”

During Thursday night’s regularly scheduled meeting, the board was informed of an impending $2.9 million reduction in state allocations for the 2011 fiscal year.

In what was termed as the “best case scenario,” the system’s Quality Basic Education (QBE) allotment next year will be just under $24.5 million, a reduction of $1.9 million from what was budgeted in fiscal year 2010. Additionally, funds from the federal stimulus pool are estimated to be $516,000, a reduction of $1 million from fiscal year 2010.

“What we’re looking at is starting next year’s budget with $3 million less than we started with for 2010’s budget,” explained Superintendent Ralph Jones. “You don’t make that up by cutting a little of this and a little of that or saving paper. It really comes down to payroll, that’s really what has to be looked at, and programs.”

Jones indicated that, while he is not speaking for the board, he has instructed the school principals to notify their staffs that this is a very serious matter and jobs may be on the line.

The state has changed the deadline of offering teachers contracts for the succeeding year from April 15 to May 15 in order to give the local systems more lead time in making staffing decisions.

System Chief Financial Officer Tim Matthews explained to the board, that in addition to the shortfalls in state funded revenue in 2011, the federal stimulus money that is currently funding 23 positions in the county will not return after the 2011 school year.

“After 2011, we’ve got 23 positions that aren’t going to be paid for, and we have to determine what to do with these positions,” Matthews said.

The money that flows through Title One grants from the federal government must be allocated by proof of need. These funds are only available by showing an area of need and data must be provided to receive these funds.

Among the positions funded by these specific grants are the math coaches, science coaches and graduation coaches. Reduction of these positions would also mean the reduction of the funds through the federal grants and would not help in shrinking the shortfall in state funding.

Among the cost reductions discussed during the meeting are reducing or eliminating local supplements, reducing or eliminating art classes, reducing or eliminating music classes. The possibility also exists that the fiscal year 2011 budget will include up to 10 furlough days for employees of the school system. So far this year, there have been six furlough days for the staff and faculty.

“It’s a lot better to cut art, than to cut math and reading,” said Board Member Randall Jones.

The budget crisis will be discussed at regular board meetings, as well as in specially called meetings and board retreats in the coming weeks before the budget is finalized this summer.