System sees red in budget

By Greg Gelpi

Cuts in teacher positions are possible, but the school system is trying to avoid cuts in the classroom.

Although nothing is finalized, projections put the Clayton County school system short more than $12.6 million for the current fiscal year and even more next year.

Clayton County schools Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis made a presentation to the Board of Education Monday, explaining the budgetary process, how the system got where it is and the options the system has for the future.

With "conservative" estimates for revenues and "generous" estimates for expenditures, the system could be about $25.3 million short in fiscal year 2005.

The system is projected to be about $12.6 million short in fiscal year 2004.

The school system built up a "savings" of as much as $39.5 million in fiscal year 2002. Each year the system spends more than it takes in, money is taken from that "savings."

Those savings are projected to be down to about $15 million for fiscal year 2004. The 2005 projections would deplete the savings and put the system in debt by almost $10 million.

The school board approved "budget assumptions" proposed by Superintendent Barbara Pulliam to help avoid budget problems in the future. One of the assumptions is that the system will operate with a balanced budget, spending the same amount that it takes in.

Other assumptions include having conservative projections, exploring other sources of income and not including midterm adjustments in budgets.

As part of the guiding assumptions, Pulliam recommended that expenses focus on "core" academic areas, school safety, state-mandated pay raises, instructional resources, recruiting and training teachers and instructional technology in the classroom.

"It's all around driving student achievement in the classroom," Pulliam said. "We're in the process of looking at where to make reductions, looking at how to keep it away from kids."

Davis also presented "potential places to review" for fiscal year 2005 to decrease expenses.

"We're looking at everything we can possibly look at," Davis said.

Among the areas he listed were: administrative/operational reductions, a 10 percent reduction in departmental budgets, delaying textbook adoptions, delaying general fund bus purchases, charging lunchroom monitors to Food Services, reducing extended-day slots, delaying the purchase of supplemental testing materials, cutting teaching positions, cutting media specialists and cutting assistant principals.

Davis said he hopes attrition will take care of the need for cuts.

To increase revenue, the only recommendation was to increase taxes, but Davis, Pulliam and board member Allen Johnson said this should be the last resort.

The federal government is not fully funding its share of special education and the state's proposed cuts to education have weighed on the budget.

The federal government is obligated to pay 40 percent of the cost of educating a special education student, but in 2002 it paid only 17 percent. The cost to educate a special education student is about twice that of a regular student, Pulliam said. The last five years, the school system has experienced a 27 percent increase in special education enrollment.

A preliminary budget should be drafted this month, Davis said, and a tentative budget will be presented to the school board in May. The final budget should be adopted in June with the millage rate being adopted in August.

In other business, the school board approved a dental insurance bid from Delta Dental by a vote of 5-3.