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School board weighs shorter school year to close budget gap
Budget in limbo until state figures arrive
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Rockdale County Public School officials warned last Thursday of possible calendar reductions of five to 10 days in the 2012-2013 school schedule to fill the budget shortfall due to continued cuts in state funding.

Lee Davis, the school system’s chief financial officer, said that Chief Academic Officer Rich Autry had met with the calendar committee to discuss cutting days with the hopes that the number would fall on the lower end in order to “keep the integrity of the instructional side.”

“We will be as low as we can possibly get it,” Davis said to the Board of Education’s finance committee.

However, the school system budget process is on hold until final revenue numbers arrive from the state.

Rockdale County High School board members vote on the tentative budget for the 2012-2013 school year in three weeks, but administration officials have their hands tied in completing the budget without additional information.

As of Friday, Davis said that his office has yet to receive the 2013 allotment sheets, which he said accounts for more than 50 percent of the school system’s expenses.

“I am in limbo until we receive the state allotment sheet,” Davis said.

Right now, RCPS faces a deficit of $6.1 million for the next school year, which is down from $11 million back in January. That occurred because of the 58 faculty position cuts, which Davis said saved RCPS $3.886 million.

Additionally, Davis said that state reductions would only decrease by $280,000 based on the amended 2012 allotment sheets. As a result, RCPS would save $1 million in the budget.

“We’re still not out of the woods, but it’s not quite as bad as I initially had thought,” Davis said at the April 19 Finance Committee meeting.

But Davis also stated that tax commissioner Dan Ray still expected the local tax digest to drop by 8 percent.

RCPS has currently experienced 10.9 million in austerity reductions over the last couple of years. Statewide, all public school systems have incurred 1.1 billion in reduced funds.

An Internal Budget Committee this Friday did not produce any significant changes because of the lack of state revenue numbers.

Davis said that the administration plans to recommend additional cuts to the board. Those could include administrative cuts, yet he’s cautious about the impact it would have.

“We are reviewing cuts to the central office. Every year we have cut central office expenditures. You cannot balance deficits with cuts to the schools only.”

Davis said that teacher contracts had been returned and were being reviewed to compile a list of potential displacements.

He noted that the recent termination of Heritage High School fine arts teacher Leslie Mosley could help a potentially displaced teacher depending on how the employee certifications match up.

At last week’s Finance Committee meeting, Davis said administration officials were mulling over the possibility of cutting five to ten calendar school days, earning additional funding from Training and Education dollars,  as well as working to phase out the remaining teacher positions that needed to be eliminated to balance the budget.

But the hold up on receiving state revenue figures has forced the administration to stall on making any changes without a complete profile of what funds RCPS has to balance the budget.

“We will not know how many calendar reduction days we will have until we receive the final state revenue numbers,” Davis said.

“Even then, that number could change on what is recommended to the Board and what they approve. We will reduce our work calendar; technically not any furloughs.”

Davis echoed this same sentiment at the finance meeting last week.

“This is bizarre,” Davis said to committee members. “I can do estimates. But I’m always afraid that they play with that austerity reduction and we come in and make a decision and we don’t have all the information, and to me it’s not wise.”

Davis believed that the focus statewide has been insurance costs, which could be holding back the release of the state budget numbers to local school districts.

When those allotments are sent to RCPS, the school system looks to gain $1 million dollars in Training and Education dollars.

According to Davis, Training and Education dollars are not restricted, beyond being used for the program for which they are appropriated.

His office is also starting work on SPLOST IV, but he has no word on what will be requested from that funding.

“We are working on projecting revenues and then we will start looking at our capital expenditure needs,” said Davis

Right now, RCPS is running on 75 percent of what was promised in SPLOST III, according to Davis. As such, money requested for SPLOST IV will be less. 

He said that the school system would possibly lose a few months between the end of SPLOST III and the beginning of SPLOST IV, but that there are enough funds to continue projects despite the lag in collection time.

SPLOST IV funds are projected to be collected in March 2013. Currently, RCPS is into year three of SPLOST III—which was voted on in November of 2006—and is still working through the remainder of SPLOST II funds, said Davis.

The state allows one cycle of SPLOST funds to be allotted for no more than five years, which then must be put to a citizen vote for extension.

Davis said that previous SPLOST funds had been collected earlier allowing the county to finish projects sooner. SPLOST IV will go full term with no early collection date.

The Board of Education will have a work session May 10 and vote on a tentative budget on May 17. The final budget will be approved on June 30.