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RCPS looking to cut about $8.6M from FY2011 budget
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Rockdale County Public Schools is looking at a tough budget year and estimating it will need to cut about $8.6 million for its coming fiscal year.

Lee Davis, chief financial officer for RCPS, said in an interview two weeks ago that the budget committee had been able to find ways to save about $3 million.

One of the options the board has been looking at includes increasing the teacher-student ratio by about 0.8 students per class. This reduces the number of teachers needed by about 30.

At a PTO meeting at Edwards Middle School, Superintendent Dr. Samuel King reassured parents and teachers that that this did not mean personnel would be let go.

"That means we should be able to do that through attrition," he said.

Another option has been to modify the points system that normally distributes funds between the schools, which takes into account factors such as transportation needs and free and reduced lunch numbers.

When asked about any possible modifications to the school year calendar, Davis said "Our priority is instruction, and we think instructionally it's not sound. That would be one of our last budget things we would do."

At the PTO meeting, when asked about the possibility of cutting arts and music programs, King reassured parents the arts were a priority.

"The research is pretty clear on fine arts/extracurricular activities. The more students are involved in extra curriculars, fine arts, the better they perform. There’s alignment in those activities and higher order thinking skills. Now does that mean the committee could possibly take a look at it as a reduction in services? Sure, could be... The amount of time a student has in art, PE. But we don’t know that at this point."

"Being asked to do more with less - that’s what it amounts to," said King.

RCPS’s budget comes from about 48 percent state funding, 50 percent local funding and 2 percent federal funding. Out of the budget, personnel make up the lion’s share, as is the case with most public school systems.

Lee pointed out that one advantage for RCPS is that it has no bond debts or obligations, leaving it in a slightly stronger position than other school systems that already have debt obligations.

Newton County Public Schools is facing a $9.7 million deficit and DeKalb County Public Schools is grappling with a $100 million gap.

This fiscal year, the school system started with about $130 million budget, but had to scramble to reduce about $4.6 million when the state handed down cuts after RCPS’s 2009-2010 budget had been approved. The state also instituted 3 furlough days in 2009 and an additional 3 furlough days so far in 2010.

The school system’s fund balance also took a blow to help absorb some of the cuts last year. The fund balance, which is the amount of funds in a school system’s coffers to keep things running, is normally kept around 15 percent, but is now down to about 8 percent.

The budget recommendations are normally completed in May with the final budget approved in June.