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Bad news, OK news on schools' budget

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

Clayton County Public Schools is projected to end its next fiscal year dangerously close to having no money left in its reserves, school officials said on Monday.

The school system unveiled the general figures for its fiscal year 2012 budget, which is scheduled to go into effect on July 1. Reserves represent the funding school districts need to operate in emergencies.

The district is projecting to spend $339.18 million during the next fiscal year, while bringing in only $335.1 million in revenues.

Chief Financial Officer Denise Thompson told members of the school board that the spending plan, as it currently exists, will pull the district's general fund balance –– projected to be $4.2 million at the end of fiscal year 2011 –– down to $703,774 at the end of fiscal year 2012. She said the district needs $36 million in reserves to cover one month of operating expenses.

But, she said, the district also has yet to find out if there will be less money coming in its state funding allocation, which means the projected end-of-year balance could go up, or go lower, the end of this week.

"Just received correspondence this afternoon that the [state funding] information is on its way to all the school districts, and we're waiting, and hoping, that it will be good news," Thompson said.

The projected 2012 budget numbers come just days before the school board is scheduled to hold a public hearing, in which local residents will be able to voice their opinions on the budget. It is scheduled for Thursday, at 6 p.m., at the Clayton County Public Schools Central Administration Complex, in Jonesboro.

The school board is scheduled to tentatively vote on adopting the 2012 budget on May 31, with a final adoption vote scheduled for June 27.

Residents, and school system employees, eager to comment on specific line items in the budget, however, will have to wait. Aside from what was included in the district's budget-reduction plan, specific details of department budgets are not yet available.

School System Deputy Superintendent Stephanie Phillips told board members that the district is waiting to see what state officials allocate to the school system in funding, before department budgets are finalized.

School Board Chairperson Pam Adamson said she is "withholding" comment on the budget, until she sees line items for each department.

Projected numbers do not always pan out the way officials expect. Fiscal year 2011 is an example. The final numbers look to be significantly different from the projections included in the budget.

A year ago, school officials expected to end the current fiscal year, in June, with a debt of $4.2 million. That debt now seems unlikely, as a result of the district spending less money, and generating more revenue than it budgeted.

The district ended up spending $8.4 million less during this school year than was budgeted, according to Thompson's presentation. At the same time, revenues ended up being approximately $600,000 higher than projected.

What remains to be seen is whether state funding will be cut, and if so, how much. School Superintendent Edmond Heatley said the district is expecting some form of funding cuts from the state. He also said he is concerned that the end-of-year general fund balance will be close to zero at the end of fiscal year 2012, but he is hopeful for better days ahead.

Thompson's budget presentation, however, shows that revenues, a year later –– in fiscal year 2013 –– are projected to be slightly higher than expenditures.

"In two years, we've cut over $130 million," Heatley said. "Not only are we concerned, we're tired of cutting. But the reality is, we can see some light at the end of the tunnel."