Deficit proposed for county school budget
BY KERRI TESTEMENT
A first look at the Jackson County School System’s tentative 2009 budget reveals one fact: Tighter financial times are ahead.
The Jackson County Board of Education got its first look of the preliminary 2009 budget during its three-day retreat last week at Glen-Ella Inn in Clarkesville.
One sign of tougher financial times: An anticipated $1.9 million deficit for the county school system in FY09.
“I know the bottom line looks nasty, but it’s not because we weren’t thinking,” said Jeff Sanchez, assistant superintendent of finance and information services.
All departments in the county school system have been asked to trim costs, Sanchez added.
The Jackson County School System has more than 7,000 students and 13 schools. A new school, Gum Springs Elementary, will open next school year in West Jackson.
For 2009, the county school system expects revenue to top $92.6 million, compared to $82.3 million in 2008.
Expenses in 2009 are expected to hit $95.8 million a 15 percent increase from 2008.
The budget doesn’t include a proposed millage rate increase, but does predict a five percent growth in the tax digest. Sanchez said Jackson County tax commissioner Don Elrod confirmed school leaders’ assumptions that the tax digest will rise by five percent.
Board chairperson Kathy Wilbanks said she has seen other preliminary budgets with bigger deficits than the one proposed for 2009.
“Jeff (Sanchez) always finds some money, but this budget will be tight,” she said.
Superintendent Shannon Adams added that the sagging economy is hurting the school system’s budget, which has also seen dropping sales tax revenue.
Personnel director Sarah Greene said she couldn’t recommend approval for a number of requests to increase staff throughout the school system amid the tighter financial times.
“It’s hard to say ‘yes’ in a year like this,” she said.
However, the board is expected to fund a number of instructional positions due to increasing class sizes or other positions previously approved by the BOE.
A new concept for the general fund budget is an instructional allocation system for each middle and high school, based on student population. Another allotment system for administration based on the number of administrators and office staff is also proposed for each school.
In the past, schools submitted their budget requests for individual projects and programs before the BOE decided to fund the requests.
Sanchez said the county school system doesn’t have enough money for all of the requests, but he wanted to be fair to all of the schools.
“This is just a solution to a crisis we’ve had,” he said.
The new instructional allotment gives a set amount of money for each of the middle and high schools, and gives the schools flexibility to use the funds as they choose. Additional allotments are planned for some programs, such as fine arts.
“We decided it was fair. That was the main thing that it was fair across the schools,” said superintendent Adams.
Like most school systems, instruction is most expensive cost for the Jackson County School System. That expensive is expected to reach $47.4 million next year, compared to $40 million this year. The school district is anticipating more than 300 new students next school year.
Sanchez said he expects the BOE to adopt a tentative budget before June 30, with approving a final budget around October. The school system has still not received an official word from the state on its contribution to the budget.
“It’s early on in the game,” Sanchez told the board members. “I’ll keep you informed on the process at the work sessions.”