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County schools facing $9.7 million FY2011 budget deficit
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At Tuesday night’s work session, the Board of Education approved Superintendent Dr. Steve Whatley's recommendation to start making cuts to next year’s fiscal year budget, including personnel, after he informed the board the school was looking at an initial $9.7 million deficit.

The cuts would not take effect until the beginning of FY2011, July 1, and not until the budget is approved by the BOE. Following the meeting, Sherri Viniard, public relations director for the school system, said this approval means Whatley can start planning cuts and notifying any staff and faculty members if they are likely to be cut.

Dr. Dennis Carpenter, deputy superintendent for operations, said around two-thirds of the $9.7 million in cuts will come directly from personnel. One-third will come from cuts to employee benefits and some cuts will be made to individual departments, as well as to supplies and computers.

Carpenter said cuts will be based first on performance and then on seniority. Cuts will be made first to classified employees, non-teacher staff, and then to certified employees, anyone who has a teaching certificate. The decisions will be made by Whatley, Carpenter, Dr. Linda Hayden, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, and the human resources director.

The county’s property tax digest has not been finalized, but based on preliminary numbers Whatley said ad valorem tax revenue would drop more than $6 million to $43 million. In addition, revenue from the state, Quality Basic Education funding, was expected to drop by $7.74 million to $85.3 million.

Finally, the school system is expecting its fund balance to decrease to $5.5 million by the end of the fiscal year June 30. The fund balance is the money carried over from year to year that helps cover operating expenses until the tax revenue begins coming in. The fund balance was $11.1 million at the beginning of this fiscal year.

The $9.7 million deficit would exist if the county keeps its current level of expenditures, about $144 million, and would leave a fund balance of zero, meaning the school might have to borrow money to cover expenses.

Overall, the schools system would receive $17 million less in revenue this year than it budgeted for this past fiscal year, giving it a new total budget of $134.5 million.

"Cuts will be made in system level and school level positions, both certified and classified, and some work days will be reduced," said Whatley in a memo to the BOE. In his recommendation he asked for and received authority to "make related personnel cuts in the teaching, classified, support and administrative staff as well as to the benefits program."

• According to the memo, school system officials have already developed a method for determining which staff members will be cut, though details will not be released until after cuts are made.

• In addition, the date to notify teachers about whether they will have a job next year has been extended from April 15 to May 15. The change made possible through House Bill 906, in order to give school systems more time to make budget decisions. The BOE voted unanimously to approve this change.

• In related news, six more staff members will be retiring, one in April, one in August and four at the end of this school year. Three employees resigned, two more will resign over the next couple of months and one employee was terminated in April.

• Finally, the BOE voted unanimously to withdraw an annual application to the state for money to renovate Newton High School. Carpenter said the school system will still receive the money; however, it will instead be used to build a new Newton High School, which will take place sometime within the next five years.