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UPDATE: School board discusses addressing future budgets
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UPDATE: After reviewing minimal changes to the tentatively adopted budget at the Thursday night finance committee meeting, the Rockdale school board faced questions of how to address future budgets where they might also face large deficits.

The proposed school budget that was tentatively adopted in May was adjusted minimally - by $4 - after the school system received the state's actual allotment numbers.

After Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis reviewed the change and the budget adoption schedule, school board member Sharon Pharr asked "Do we have a written plan for going forward the next 2-5 years? Because this isn't stopping," she said referring to the budget deficits.

Superintendent Richard Autry said that public school budgets are subject to the changing revenue collected by state and local entities, which makes it difficult to plan further in advance.

"I don't want to have a budget based on hypotheticals," he said. "We did a 5 year projection based on (past years) and we were off 15 percent." 

"We were reacting, but we were reacting to the facts given to us," said Autry of this year's budget revision.

Davis added, "This is the first time in 6-7 years is that the changes were on the local side." In the past, if there were sudden, unexpected changes in the revenue projection, it came from state cuts. This year, the local tax digest was hit harder than expected and it was a perfect storm of circumstances, said Davis.

Autry said, "Hopefully we can get our projections sooner and more accurate, but even then I don't know we wouldn't be at this unfortunate place."

If there's another large, unexpected drop in revenue next year, said Autry, "the things we were able to take off the table would be put back on the table."

Pharr proposed that the finance committee should meet more often to better understand the budget.

School board member Wales Barksdale said that could be done if it was the wish of the board, but that in his nine years on the school board working with the school system, he had found it to be very transparent.

At the public hearing for the budget, there was only one person who commented.

Arthur Kidney said he wished there could have been other places to cut than teachers but commended the school system on the job of balancing the budget. "I am concerned about next year. We've seen a trend in Rockdale where the property digest is going down.... I suspect it's going to be another 2-3 years before we see the increase in our digest."

He noted that Rockdale is one of the few counties that can raise the school tax rate above the 20 mill cap in place for other counties in Georgia. Rockdale can raise the school portion of the property tax up to 30 mills.

He proposed to the board, "After this budget's passed, or whatever happens, let's look at as though - what if you couldn't raise it above the 20 mills? What would you do then?"

At the opening of the school board work session at 7 p.m., the school board observed a moment of silence for Jennifer Burkhalter, a technology support teacher who died Tuesday.


IN BRIEF: The Rockdale County Board of Education and the school board's finance committee will take up the draft budget that was tentatively adopted last month. The school board will hold a public hearing on the 2013-2014 budget tonight, Thursday, 6:30 p.m. at 954 N. Main Street, before the final vote on it next week. The school board finance committee will meet 5:30 p.m. at the meeting room in the main part of the building at 954 N. Main Street.

To see the agenda for the finance committee meeting at 5:30 p.m., click here.

To see the agenda for the budget public hearing at 6:30 p.m., click here.

To see the agenda for the school board work session at 7 p.m., click here.