BOE budget continues to reflect revenue losses

The Henry County Board of Education anticipates another year of a decline in local taxes. The losses will be reflected in the school district's budget for the 2010-11 school year.

The five-member board unanimously approved a $284.3 million budget at Monday's regular board meeting. The spending plan goes into effect on July 1.

The new budget accounts for about $20 million in lost local tax revenues, the consequence of a slumping economy, and a diminishing tax digest, according to Jeff Allie, Henry's assistant superintendent of finance. Allie noted that the county's tax digest, which shrank by 2.5 percent in 2009, is projected to shrink by another 15.3 percent this year.

School district budget data, however, revealed a healthy tax digest with steady growth over the decade leading up to 2009. Allie said school officials looked for alternative funding sources as a result of the district's shrinking tax digest.

The finance officer said that continued state funding cuts, which will total at least $38.5 million for the 2010-11 school year, also have created challenges in developing and maintaining a balanced budget.

"I think it's a sad thing that, with the state of the economy, adults would take money away from education," said McDonough parent, Andre Mitchell, who attended Monday's school board meeting. "We have to be willing to put the money into our school systems."

The budget, Allie pointed out, is the lowest its been since 2006-07. Then, the budget included $267.3 million for 39 schools and 38,440 students. The newly adopted budget is about $33 million less than what was initially set for the 2009-10 budget, and more than $42 million less than what was initially set for the 2008-09 budget, according to Allie.

The 2010-11, $284.3 million budget is expected to serve a student body of 40,805 pupils in 50 schools.

Allie said during a budget presentation in May, school district officials attempted to find alternative revenue sources at both the state and federal levels, while looking for ways to balance the school board's budget. "I feel like we've exhausted all of our revenue options," he said. "And in doing so, maximizing those revenue options this year, allowed us not to have to decrease our budget farther than $284 million."

The school board plans to institute local cost-cutting measures by eliminating some positions, including social workers and elementary art and music teachers, added Allie. "We have eliminated 22 art and music positions," he said. "The programs will continue to operate with fewer instructors."

The school board, he continued, will implement employee furlough days, increase class sizes, and freeze employee salaries.

"The governor signed the budget on June 8. However, we have not received a ‘final allotment' sheet from the state," Allie said. "We do not expect any changes from the ‘preliminary' sheet. Although, state revenue collections were down by 6 percent in May."