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RCPS faces $15.3M budget shortfall
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Rockdale County Public Schools is grappling with more than $15 million in cuts from a tentative $125 million proposed budget while officials also deal with a last minute $1.4 million increase in state health care costs. 

Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis, along with members of the superintendent’s cabinet, presented the school board Finance Committee with the tentative 2013 budget, which is estimated at $124.8 million.

The cuts, which total $15.3 million, are at their highest in the last three years, up by nearly four times the cuts experienced in 2010.

However, the proposed cuts to the calendar could change once Davis adjusts the figures to reflect the sudden health insurance mandate from the state.

At the time of Thursday’s meeting, Davis and Chief Academic Officer Rich Autry requested three calendar days to be cut from the teacher work schedule.

That request had to be tossed out after Davis received an email from the Department of Community Health that RCPS’s monthly health insurance contribution would increase by $112 dollars per certified employee. The school system has more than 1,100 certified employees

That would add about $1.4 million to the insurance contribution for the 2013 budget.

Davis said that the state proposed a flat rate contribution — which is currently done for classified employees — of $800, for which he increased the fringe benefit to cover it. 

But the last minute increase to $912 could see the reduction of three additional teacher work days in order to offset the new costs.

Other new cuts for the 2012-2013 school year include eliminating 16 central office positions and re-classifying one position, which the committee believed should quell any concerns from taxpayers that the BOE isn’t taking an “all-of-the-above” approach when it came to reducing the budget. 

“A lot of times we hear that we are not making cuts at the central office. And here are (16 position) cuts…and you see the size of central office versus the system as a whole,” said board member Darlene Hotchkiss.

Among the central office positions that would be cut include four secretarial positions, a maintenance and a mechanic position in the Building and Grounds department, four consultants for special education and English language learners, a social worker, a warehouse position, a lead IT position and a prevention intervention specialist. The Building and Grounds secretary would be reclassified. All total, the central office positions would reduce the budget by $1.04 million.

The cabinet also proposed outsourcing custodial services, though Davis was waiting for a Request of Proposal to determine if hiring a private company was a fiscal choice. That would shave $1 million off the budget.

“You can’t balance the budget on the schools. We have to look at cuts in the departments,” said Davis.

The alternative retirement contribution would continue to be suspended for a third year in a row, and textbook replacements would be deferred for another year.

The budget also reflects the elimination of 58 teacher positions at a savings of $3.89 million. 

Over the last three budgets, from FY 2010 to FY 2012, 40 teacher positions have been cut as well as 71 paraprofessional positions back in FY 2010.

As a result, class sizes have increased. FY 2013 would see a slight uptick in pupil-teacher ratios by about 1 to 2 students for all school levels.

However, school officials mention that the ratio does not include gifted, exploratory and designated Title I teachers, which would bring the number down. When gifted and exploratory teachers are included, that number drops to an average of 18.8 students per one teacher.

“Even though we did have to increase our ratios a little, I feel good that I still think that ours our, comparably speaking, a lot better than our counterparts,” Davis said.

These budget cuts come at a time when state and local budgets are reeling back from high unemployment and poor housing numbers.

Davis said that the school’s 2013 budget is running off the estimate of an 8 percent decrease in local tax digest, which is lower than it has actually been in the past few years.

The state’s FY 2013 budget is still 8.6 percent lower than the FY 2009 budget, which was $21.2 billion –the state’s highest budget passed to-date.

Also, Georgia’s labor force has been reduced by 12.4 since FY 2008, which as of December, has been the lowest in 14 years.

As a result, state and local revenues for RCPS’s budget are within a few million dollars of each other. State funds received total $63.77 million, or 52 percent of the budget. Local revenues make up $59.04 million or 48 percent of the budget. Grants and federal revenue come in at $537,910, a mere 2 percent of the budget.

The Board of Education will meet on Thursday, May 17 to vote on the tentative 2012-2013 budget.