Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tattnall County BOE Struggles with Finances Due to Funding Cuts From State

The Tattnall County Board of Education is still struggling with finding ways to meet the demands of the upcoming budget while dealing with continued funding cuts from the State.

In a workshop meeting Monday, March 22, 2010, Superintendent Dr. Gina Williams stated that they still did not have a lot of concrete information yet from the State as to funding for the upcoming fiscal year.

“The State may not have their budget until August but we still have to make some decisions on our own budget. By May 15, we need to know who’s contracts (staff) that we’re not going to renew,” said Williams. “We also need a decision on the new school calendar and if we’re going to raise revenue locally. The calendar and the revenue will directly impact the number of staff we employ (not considering those who are retiring). A lot of things have to happen before May 15.”

Financial Director Debbie Powell went over an updated view of the current financial outlook based on the latest information provided by the State.

“We’ve revised this month’s projections to reflect the decrease in funding by the Governor. The good news though is the end of February showed a projected fund balance of $48,677 at the end of this fiscal year,” said Powell.

Since fiscal year 2010 began, the Tattnall County School System has been cut close to $2.5 million in State funding. That figure would have been an additional $400,000 less if Tattnall had not seen a recent increase in the FTE count.

In regards to the local millage rate, Tattnall County is currently at 11.537 mills while the State average for school systems is 15.06 mills. It was reported that eight systems were at 20 mills, 30 systems at 18 mills or more, and 92 systems over 15 mills.

Property owner David Jarriel was in attendance and asked how many school system employees made over $65,000 per year. An immediate figure was unavailable.

“I don’t think I should be penalized because I own land because of my profession (farming) while it’s benefiting people with deeper pockets that I have,” said Jarriel.

“So you think we should be penalized?,” asked TCHS Coach Jeff Kaiser.

To avoid a heated confrontation, Chairman Richard Bland shifted the discussion back to the table.

“Our millage rate is figured on higher assessed values,” said Board member Marilyn Lanier. “Property is not worth that now and I don’t think taxpayers can afford an increase.”

“If more attention had been paid to the budget over the last three or four years, then we might not be in this situation,” said Chairman Bland. “But regardless, we have to deal with the present situation.”

Several other questions in regards to teacher salaries versus administrator salaries, paraprofessional requirements and their salaries, transportation, etc. were also raised.

Board member Marilyn Lanier even asked about possible savings if they were to combine the three middle schools to one central location.

James Brown stated that in order to finance a project like that, they would have to get fast-forward funding from the State, which would tie up the next 10 years of entitlement money. Additionally, it would cost 20 to 25 percent of the total locally. Either way, that would be a long-term project and not help with the current demands.

Superintendent Williams gave an overview of possible savings from previous questions asked by board members — the Energy Education savings is expected to save $62,000 in the first year; the alternative school expected to save $48,000; elimination of positions from personnel retiring, $606,000; calendar savings if they were to go with the 170 student days/180 teacher days plan, $500,000; middle school athletics, $35,000; middle and elementary school art, music, band and exploratory courses, $560,000; key personnel cell phones, $3,850; school nurses, $79,547; civic fees for local club memberships, $1,040; and sponsorship of a staff member in Leadership Tattnall, $250.

While Williams said the potential calender savings was at $500,000 instead of the previously projected $1 million, she explained that was because Governor Perdue did not intend on giving the funding back in the upcoming year that he took from this past year’s six furlough days. Therefore, the new calendar, if approved, would only save four days worth of salary locally instead of the previously talked about ten. Those other six days out would have already been deducted again through less funding from the State.

“We are living in historic times,” said Board member Jeff Odom. “Today, we are seeing the dismantling of public education in Georgia. Every question we have gets a heated response. There are no easy answers. I don’t think we can ‘cut’ or ‘tax’ our way out of this situation.”

Board member Dale Kicklighter stated that the State could easily help in the funding crisis by implementing a one-percent sales tax for education.

“Atlanta is telling us to handle it locally when they could fix it so easily,” said Kicklighter. “I don’t like it. I don’t feel like Atlanta is supporting us the way they should. What we have to decide in the next few weeks is terrible for all of us.”

Superintendent Williams stated that she needed to know the Board’s decision on the school calendar and millage rate in order to prepare a RIF plan (reduction in force). The plan, if needed, would be based on several considerations including programs, teacher effectiveness and seniority.

“We need to make up our minds about the calendar and let the dominoes fall where they will,” said Kicklighter. “Once we decide that, Gina can give us her recommendation afterwards.”

A called board meeting was set for Wednesday, March 31 at 2 p.m. Chairman Bland asked the Board to be prepared to vote on a calendar at that meeting.

In their regular monthly meeting following the budget workshop, the board met in closed session to consider school principals’ contracts and central office staff, among other items, but decided to not take any action on the contracts afterwards.

TCHS Principal Glenn Stewart said that he has struggled over the last few weeks in deciding what cuts he could make at his own school.

“It’s kind of hard for me to think about personnel cuts when I haven’t even been approved yet myself. Why was the issue tabled today? I think we deserve a response,” said Stewart.

“We will try to expedite the process,” said Board member Mary Ruth Oliver. “The decision to table it was not a reflection of the individuals. We just don’t want to mislead anyone about the contracts in what will be in there and won’t be in there. We want all the information to be in the contract when it is offered.”

Chairman Richard Bland agreed.

“I don’t think we can improve on our administration. It is not a question if we want anyone else. It is a simple case of economics,” he said.

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