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Schools saved $4 million last year
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Being fiscally conservative has paid off for the Newton County School System, allowing for more than $4 million to be carried over from last year's budget into the current budget, giving the system a little wiggle room.

After cutting $9 million from the 2011-12 budget (which began July 1), the system planned to begin the school year with around $11 million in reserves, but after a savings from the maintenance and operations department of $2,14 million the system's reserve fund balance is at $15.7 million.

In addition to the savings from maintenance and operations, the school system was able to negotiate with the federal government to pay considerably less than expected in the Special Education Effort. Instead of paying over $700,000, the system will pay $134,687 for some county schools failing to meet certain academic benchmarks that are necessary to receive funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for special education.

The big decision now is whether to spend the funds to reinstate some of the cuts made earlier this year or if they should be kept in reserves.

Chairman Almond Turner expressed a desire to look into options such as pay steps, an increase in the amount paid into insurance or eliminating some furlough days. Superintendent Gary Mathews urged the board to look into the future before spending the funds.

Mathews said that by the end of the 2013-14 school year, the system is expected to have just a bit more than $1.3 million. Although that seems like a lot of money, it costs the system $568,138 to operate daily. Meaning there would be only two days worth of money left in the budget at the end of the school year. In order to maintain the minimum fund balance of $4,461,865 more than $8 million in cuts would have to be made. Because the future years are so uncertain, he recommended the board take those figures into consideration before spending the money.

It was estimated that it would cost about $2.2 million to fund step increased for employees and around $475,000 to fund just one furlough day for employees.

The board decided that rather than rush into a decision they would meet at 9 a.m. Oct. 10 in the board room to discuss options for the additional funds. The meeting is open to the public.