By Johnny Jackson and Curt Yeomans
Local school officials say they are pleased with proposed legislation that would give their school systems more freedom and flexibility on how to spend their state funding.
Earlier this week, Gov. Sonny Perdue sent a letter to Georgia school superintendents announcing his intention for the state to grant school systems flexibility in how state funds are used. The move is an attempt to counter the state's current spending reduction plans that include reduced education funding.
"This is certainly good news from the Governor's office in relation to relaxing the expenditure controls for state monies," said Jeff Allie, assistant superintendent of finance in Henry County Schools. "The flexibility allows systems to spend on the areas of their choice and need."
The state's school systems currently spend state funds on programs within their direct instruction budgets, which contain funding to one or more of the state's Quality Basic Education Act (QBE) programs. Among the QBE programs, for example, are school library media centers and system-level professional development.
Perdue hopes his proposal will help school systems better manage their budgets during the state's current economic crunch. Based on the proposal, for example, a system may be able to spend state funds it receives for professional development, on its school library media centers instead.
Perdue revised the state's FY09 budget estimate earlier this summer, and asked for 6 percent spending reductions in most state agencies, and a 2 percent reduction in the funding formula for schools.
To further help school systems, he also is requesting the State Board of Education to grant approval to all reasonable class-size waiver requests for this school year, and next (2009-10).
"I trust these proposals will help give school systems some additional tools for addressing the challenges confronting all of us," he said. "I have discussed these proposals with the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the house, and I look forward to working with them to address these issues during the 2009 legislative session."
Clayton County Schools Spokesman Charles White said the school system is currently looking at the proposal, and evaluating how it would affect its schools. However, he said Clayton appreciates the governor's efforts to help Georgia school systems deal with budget cuts.
"We are seeking feedback from within the [district's] administration to see what impact they think this will have, but we don't have any responses yet."
Clayton County has a $612 million budget for this fiscal year, with $314.1 million spent on instruction; $25 million set aside for improving instructional programs; $7.6 million spent on educational media services, and $16.8 million used for pupil services. The budget included an anticipated $284.4 million in state funding when it was approved by the Clayton County Board of Education this summer.
When the school system released its proposed Fiscal Year 2009 (FY09) budget in June, district officials estimated that the school system had lost $57.2 million through state budget cuts since 2002. The system will present its mid-year budget adjustments to the Board of Education within the next two months. The adjustments allow the school system to reallocate funds based on what tax revenues have been like for the first half of the fiscal year.
Roger Reese, the chief financial officer for Clayton Schools, has been out of the office this week and was unavailable for comment, said White. The system's spokesman explained that Clayton officials are hesitant to comment in depth about the proposal until it has received Reese's input.
While Clayton is reviewing Perdue's proposal, Henry County school officials are not expecting any major changes to their funding of affected programs.
Jeff Allie, Henry's finance director, said Henry will probably not discontinue any funding for its media centers and professional development as a result of the increased flexibility.
"However, it is good to have the flexibility to change spending patterns during these austere times," Allie said. "We certainly appreciate the flexibility the proposal gives us. However, we currently spend more than 100 percent of state funds in each of the aforementioned areas [media centers and professional development]. I don't believe the proposal will change our current spending patterns as it relates to instruction."
About $232 million is spent on direct instruction in Henry, which is operating on a total budget set at $327 million for FY09, with roughly 57 percent of that budget being state-funded.
The school system, as others around the state, will deal with fewer dollars this year, due to additional state funding cuts to help make up for the state's $1.6 billion loss of revenue in FY08, and potential shortfalls in FY09.
The governor's proposed legislation would make the relaxed controls retroactive to July 1, 2008, and effective through June 30, 2010.