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BOE faces grim budget situation; School system shortfall nearly $2 million after cuts

By Diane Glidewell

dglidewell@jacksonprogress-argus.com

The Butts County Board of Education held its first work session for the 2010-2011 budget on Monday, April 19. The budget must be approved and tax millage set in corroboration with the Board of Commissioners tax millage by July 1, 2010, and this meeting was the first step in the process toward that end.

The Butts County community, and especially the employees of the school system, are aware there will be severe cuts in this budget from the funds which have been available in recent years, even the funds which have existed after cuts in the last two years. In anticipation of the drastic actions to be taken, there were approximately 300 people in attendance at Monday night's meeting, which was held in the Rufus Adams Auditorium to accommodate the crowd.

Eight individuals came to the podium following the budget presentation to make public comment before the Board voted on any of the proposals.

"We want you to know where we are and what we're up against," said BOE Chairman Ernest Battle to open the budget work session.

"Each day our teachers teach their hearts out," said Superintendent Lynda White. "This is the most difficult budget we have ever experienced."

When estimated revenue for next year is subtracted from anticipated expenditures plus other shortages, there is a shortfall of $3,749,900. The Board must find ways to cut this almost $4 million from a budget that has already been cut in almost every area except eliminating personnel and programs.

A big part of the deficit is the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) shortage of $1,100,000. SPLOST funds are anticipated, borrowed against, and spent before they are received. Because SPLOST funds come from sales taxes, when sales fell because of the economy, the amount SPLOST brought in fell, but the school system had already spent the expected amount.

There are few ways for the Board to increase revenue. Property taxes in the 2009-2010 budget were set at 18.05 mils for the School Board; the state limit is 20 mils and several surrounding counties are already at this maximum, according to Superintendent White. Each mil is estimated to raise approximately $600,000. Last year each mil was expected to bring in $685,000 but failed to reach the anticipated revenue. The Board will raise fees for using school facilities, like the auditorium, and will begin charging $5 for transcripts and for copies of W2 forms and paycheck stubs, but that income will be minimal.

White presented the "Blue Sheet," the requests from individual schools and departments for items to be included in the budget. Items were designated "A" for necessary, "B" for desirable but not essential, and "C" for not recommended at this time. Almost no items received the "A" rating.

Superintendent White then went through Scenarios A, B1, B2, and B3 with categorized lists of cuts to be made from the budget.

Many of the cutbacks in A had already been put in place: System-wide, 5.5 teaching positions were cut. Classes were increased by one student in middle school and high school. Permanent substitutes were eliminated; compensation is lower for temporary substitutes even if they work every day. Changes were made in the ELL position, and one nurse was replaced with a health care worker.

An energy conservation plan, expected to save $20,000, will take all appliances like coffee makers, refrigerators, and popcorn poppers out of the classrooms. A new inventory system will reduce the cost of custodial supplies.

Butts County has dropped a consortium contract with Gordon College and has dropped its contract for contraband detection dog visits at the middle school and high school.

Mandatory direct deposit for system employees will save $5,000, and the Board will forego attendance at the annual Georgia Board of Education Conference.

Cuts from List A will save the system $585,302, still leaving a shortfall of over $3 million.

The B1 list cuts four clerk positions, reduces all 240-day employees to 230 days, reduces 230-day employees to 200 days, and eliminates the Parent Coordinator position. The school psychologist and the middle school and elementary school counselors are reduced to 190 days, the same as teachers. Implementing B1 cuts will save $286,549.

The B2 list decrees 10 furlough days for all school employees. Summer staff will work four days per week for 10 hours, which should save $35,000 in energy costs by closing the offices one additional day per week. Central office and administrative school employees will be furloughed for 15 days rather than 10 days. The school instructional year will be cut from 180 to 170 days, creating savings in bus transportation. The B2 list creates $984,658 in savings.

The BOE voted unanimously to approve the A, B1, and B2 lists, still leaving an estimated shortfall in the school system budget of $1,893,391.

The Board also unanimously approved the revised school calendar with school beginning on August 9 and ending on May 20, 2011. It keeps professional learning days; it includes no half days.

The Board did not vote on the B3 list; it consisted of severe, controversial slashes which will which will be considered item by item to decide how best to balance the budget. Taking all of the actions on the B3 list would save $3,753,103, which is more than the estimated need.

The B3 list included eliminating all music, physical education, and art programs in the elementary schools. It would close North Mulberry Academy and the Rainbow Center and reduce learning support staff in all schools.

Two assistant principal positions would be cut and kindergarten paraprofessionals would be cut by half so that each two kindergarten teachers would share one paraprofessional.

At the high school, the band, choral music, and NJROTC programs would be cut as well as all competitions, academic, occupational skills, and athletic. JHS would also lose its academic coaches and graduation coach.

Media paraprofessionals would be cut at all schools, and the elementary school counseling staff would be cut by half. Henderson Middle School would lose its graduation coach, math coach, and art teacher.

All nurses would be replaced with health care workers, and the occupational therapist position would be cut by half. One custodian and the school social work clerical position would be cut.

Also under consideration would be a four-day school week, which would pack the same number of instructional hours into four days instead of five. This schedule, which has been reported successful in Peach County, would produce an estimated savings of $496,480.

When the meeting was opened for public comment, Keith Benton, Principal of North Mulberry Academy, addressed the Board regarding the success of NMA during its two years of operation. He supplied figures showing how NMA had actually operated under its budget each year and had cost the county substantially less than anticipated. He reminded the Board that the children served by NMA would have to be served by the school system in some way.

"I assure you we will look to give our kids a second chance, " said Mr. Battle. "I can make no promises, but we will look."

Other individuals were given the opportunity to speak for specific programs or positions they hoped to see retained.

"We've never had to talk this way before," said Battle.

"I appreciate you guys coming out and telling us what you have to say," said Board member Linda Godin. "If you don't tell us, we don't know."

The Board then went into executive session to discuss a land matter.