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Schools face increasing insurance costs, decreasing digests
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Rockdale County Public Schools's Chief Financial Officer outlined some of the challenges facing this year's budget committee in creating a balanced budget for 2014, including increasing health insurance costs, decreasing digests and federal budget cuts, and presented midterm adjustment figures on Thursday.

However, in a bright spot, RCPS's student enrollment appears to be growing over last year's numbers, which means more funding from state and federal sources. According to RCPS Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis, the austerity reductions in state funding appears to have stopped getting deeper as well.

"At least currently, they don't think our austerity reduction is going to increase any more. That's huge," said Davis. "If austerity reduction doesn't increase... we're looking at a pretty big increase in state revenue." He added, "The flip side of that coin is we have more staff and more students next year." The school system is expecting about 30 more teachers next year.

RCPS Superintendent Richard Autry and school board members and cabinet staff recently heard from the Ga. Department of Education's Chief Financial Officer Scott Austinson and met with officials from other school districts.

"Through talking from some of my counterparts, we're a lot better than most," said Davis. "We are in a similar boat, but there are a lot who are in a much worse position than we are with class sizes, calendar adjustment days." Many of the bigger metro Atlanta school districts are facing worse fund balance levels or even fund balance deficits. "You'll see numbers that are pretty staggering for school systems."

RCPS has maintained 180 instructional days in its calendar and did not have to lay off many teachers or certified employees that wanted to return, said Davis. Last year, about four or five certified employees were not offered a contract renewal, said Davis, and other reductions were achieved through attrition.

RCPS is already seeing savings through outsourcing its janatorial staff last year, said Davis. "The biggest savings is we're not paying that increased insurance cost."

Sequestration will affect RCPS in a reduction of federal Title I funding, which helps fund teachers for schools with majority student populations from low socioeconomic backgrounds. However, Davis said, principals had already been given a lowball estimate of about 91 percent of last year's Title I dollars to begin planning their staffing for next year.

One of the difficult aspects of insurance cost increases has been that they've come after the budget has been set for the year. "If we know about it we can plan on it... if you're going to do it at least tell us," said Davis.

This year's internal budget committee, which has some rotating members each year, includes Salem High Principal Tonya Bloodworth, Memorial Middle Principal Andrea McMahan, CJ Hicks Elementary Principal Sherrod Willaford, and Flat Shoals Elementary Principal Tammy Hightower.

The school board members on the school board's budget committee are Katrina Young, Mandy North, Sharon Pharr, Wales Barksdale, and Brad Smith.