BOE trimming costs in tight budget year
No property tax increase proposed for FY ‘09
BY KERRI TESTEMENT
The Jackson County Board of Education has given an initial approval of its 2009 fiscal year budget for $92.4 million.
It’s a budget that doesn’t include a deficit or proposed property tax hike, but does foresee cuts in some departments from a previously-proposed budget.
The 2009 budget is a 9.9 percent increase from the 2008 budget of $83.2 million.
Jeff Sanchez, assistant superintendent for finance and information systems, said the board may adopt the final budget during the fall.
In the meantime, the board authorized the superintendent to seek bids for a $12 million Tax Anticipation Note (TAN) until the district receives finalized tax digest information to adopt the budget.
Sanchez told the board that the tighter economy is affecting the budgets of every family and business.
“We need to just hold the line on this one,” he said on Thursday.
Sanchez said the district is still looking for expenses to cut and determining funding priorities, should the projected county tax digest increase of five percent change.
“It’s also a year that we can catch our breath,” Sanchez said. “Instead of taking on new projects, we can sharpen the ones we’ve got.”
The school board initially looked at a budget during its retreat in May at Glen Ella Resort that topped $95.8 million and included a projected $2 million deficit.
Since then, the county school system has learned that its local fair share for the budget increased by $1.2 million, up to $7.2 million.
Sanchez said the school system “pulled out all of the stops” to trim costs when it learned about the additional costs for local taxpayers.
Some of those measures included trimming more than $2.1 million in technology projects, new vehicles and funding additional textbooks.
The county school system is considering a plan to swap textbooks among schools and order sets for classrooms, Sanchez said. Eventually, students may turn to instruction on the internet instead of textbooks for their studies, he added.
Board chairperson Kathy Wilbanks asked that all funding options for textbooks be considered.
“We’re certainly going to get what the kids need, but if we’re just buying a $125 textbook and they’re just sitting in the classroom, then there might be a better way,” Wilbanks said.
The district, however, is purchasing several new textbooks and related materials for science and math in various grades.
The county school system is also proposing buying five new buses, instead of seven. That move would save the district about $160,000.
Another cost-saving measure may include taking a second look at non-essential school field trips.
The Jackson County School System logged more than 40,000 miles last school year for non-essential field trips, excluding those for music and athletic programs.
The proposed budget estimates that diesel fuel for school buses will hit $4.50 a gallon. The school system recently paid $4.01 a gallon for diesel fuel.
Instruction is the top expense for the county school system. That figure is expected to rise seven percent from $40 million in the 2008 budget to $44 million in the 2009 budget.
Jackson County is planning to hire 36 additional teachers for the 2008-2009 school year. Gum Springs Elementary School will open in August.
Sanchez noted that within two years, the school system has also opened East Jackson Comprehensive High School and Kings Bridge Middle School. The district used to open a new school about every five years, he said.
For the next school year, the Jackson County School System will have more than 551 teachers, 159 paraprofessionals, 88 bus drivers, 77 custodian personnel, 36 administrators and 15 counselors among its staff totaling 1,027 employees.
More than 83 percent of the general fund budget includes salaries and benefits.
The Jackson County School System estimates it will receive $35.4 million in local funds and $32.8 million in state funds for the 2009 budget. Grant funds are anticipated at $23.3 million, along with a $1.1 million balance to start the budget on July 1.
The budget includes a projected ending balance of $504,438 on June 30, 2009.
The cost of educating a child in the county school system is expected to reach $12,457. Of that amount, $6,467 would be provided by local funds and $5,989 from the state.