School board facing budget deficit

Published 5:30 pm Friday, May 13, 2011

The Decatur County School Board adopted its tentative budget on Thursday night, with school officials acknowledging that cutbacks to local schools’ funding and the slowly recovering economy have had a drastic impact.

Even after approving a slate of cutbacks at the local level that will save $1.6 million next year, the school board’s proposed budget has an estimated deficit of about $1.8 million. Total estimated expenditures from the general fund are about $36.4 million, while total estimated revenue to the general fund is about $34.6 million.

If the school board had not approved the local cutbacks at a special called meeting this past Tuesday, the budget could have had a deficit of as much as $3.3 million, said Tim Matthews, the schools’ chief financial officer.

Email newsletter signup

The local cutbacks that school board members agreed upon Tuesday include:

• $1.1 million in salary for 18 employees and teachers who are retiring that could be moved to other positions

• $148,000 in savings from the salaries of two employees who may go to a part-time retiree status

• $250,000 from reduction in educational resources

• $45,000 from reductions to professional learning

• $150,000 from reductions to technology replacements

The most significant factor in the budget deficit is the fact that federal economic stimulus money, which helped fund 23 positions in the school system, has now expired after two years. That means about $1.44 million in salary will now have to be picked back up by the school system, according to a budget report handed out at Tuesday’s meeting.

The 2011-2012 school year will include six furlough days, which will reduce the overall budget by $913,938. Each furlough day, while unpopular, represents a reduction of $152,323 to the budget. Although it doesn’t appear the school board is considering a millage increase, each additional mill would bring in about $826,000.

Without adding furlough days or raising the school system’s property taxes, it is assumed that the shortfall would be covered out of the general fund’s reserves, reducing it from $4.7 million to $2.8 million by June 30, 2012.

The proposed budget will be advertised for two weeks and then a final vote will be taken at the board’s June meeting.

New school system policies adopted

The school board also voted to approve a major rewrite of school system policy, which had last underwent significant revision 23 years ago, according to School Superintendent Fred Rayfield.

The revised policies were drafted by a committee of local officials with the help of law firm Harben, Hartley and Hawkins of Gainesville, Ga., said Rayfield, who said it has been his goal to have a new policy manual in place by the 2011 school year.

Although board members Clarissa Kendrick and Winston Rollins voiced concerns about the way the policies were revised—with Rollins casting the sole “no” vote against their adoption—Rayfield said new policies were a necessity from both a practical and legal standpoint.

“I would say you need to make a wholesale review of your policies every 10 years at least,” Rayfield said. “It has been some time since that was carried out.”

“The duties I have to carry out every day concern what is in those policies,” the superintendent said. “I have to feel comfortable … that we are doing things in the right way.”

Rayfield said most of the revisions drafted by the law firm deal with changes in state and federal education law that have came to pass in the last 23 years.

“The process [the policies] have gone through is quite thorough and I feel like a good job has been done,” Kendrick said. “I just feel that at some point we have left behind the idea of [the board] being the sole source of policy … some of them I don’t understand like I should have. What if those policies come up at a meeting, then we have problems with them and vote against it?”

Rayfield said the policies “are a living document and can be revised/deleted at any time,” with the consultation of the lawyers.