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BOE looks at options on next year's budget

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

The Henry County Board of Education expects to reduce its budget for the 2010-11 school year by 5 percent, making it $17 million less than it had planned for this year's budget.

During a special called meeting Friday, school officials presented two dozen possible options from which to save on expenses to meet their reduced-budget goal for next school year.

"We usually start planning our [next year's] budget in January," said Jeff Allie, Henry's assistant superintendent of finance. "The purpose of this meeting is to try to plan ahead."

Allie said he anticipates a $7.1 million shortfall on this year's (Fiscal Year 2010) budget, due to $16.3 million in state funding cuts. He said the board will likely make up the shortfall by dipping into its $29.9 million reserve fund. "I think the budget is OK," Allie said. "Our finances are in great shape. The unknown is what the state will do in terms of funding cuts in January."

He said the state may consider making additional cuts to education. In an effort to plan ahead, Allie said, the board is considering several ways to slash next year's budget.

On Friday, Allie presented the board of education with several budget-reduction options. He said the system will see automatic savings next school year of about $3.7 million, in costs associated with opening new schools. Henry County will also save $753,488 when media start-up funding for four of the new schools expires later this year.

Those savings, however, will not likely make up for anticipated funding cuts, Allie said. He said the board may have to make cuts to some school programs, or in some facility needs.

He suggested various options, including down-sizing some school programs, such as the In-School Suspension Program offered at each of Henry's middle and high schools. Another proposition was to re-format instruction in the Evening Academy and Summer School programs.

Allie said board members may decide to use the option of locally directed, unpaid furlough days, which could save the school system about $1.3 million per day in salaries. Another option, he said, is to order a 1-percent salary reduction for all school system employees to save $2.5 million next school year.

"I understand that there are a lot of concerns," said Renita Williams, a human resources specialist for Henry. Williams said she took dozens of calls Friday from concerned school system employees, and parents, about potential options for the board. "If the board is able to keep its ideas and plans the way they are, we should be OK," Williams said. "The options -- I know they wouldn't have to resort to implementing all of them -- but some of them will be necessary."

The board spends about $7.2 million each year on electricity, Allie said. He estimated that as much as $1 million of that is used to operate classroom appliances - classroom microwaves and mini-refrigerators used by faculty members at schools.

Sue Lowe, a retired para-professional, proposed temporarily assessing small fees for the use of non-essential electrical appliances. "I think they could, maybe, assess a fee for teachers to use an appliance like a coffee maker," Lowe said. "I know, sometimes, that a cup of coffee is all that gets you through the day."

Lowe said she left the special-called meeting with mixed feelings. "I know we have to all pull together, but teachers spend a lot of their own money for supplies already. They are sacrificing," she said. "I wasn't satisfied, but I know steps have to be taken to get through this economic crunch."