Schools ‘shocked’by 12.5% proration

Published 11:59 pm Monday, December 15, 2008

It only takes one word to describe the reaction of local school superintendents to the governor’s announcement Monday on proration — “shocked.”

Monday, Gov. Bob Riley announced a Deficit Prevention Plan that includes a hiring freeze on state workers, merit pay raises and a halt to the purchase of new state vehicles and other measures.

Additionally, the plan includes a 10 percent cut in the current fiscal year to all state agencies and a 12.5 percent rate of proration in the education budget. Riley also announced the withdrawal of $218 million, or half of the amount available, from the Rainy Day Fund for education, which effectively reduces the amount of proration to 9 percent.

Proration is the process of cutting spending when revenues fall short of expectations. Riley’s announcement had been expected for weeks.

Initially, Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart was prepared for a number around 7 percent, but once the 12.5 percent announcement was made, he said the situation turned dire.

“These cuts are severe,” Smithart said. “For us, 12.5 percent is more than $1 million – 9 percent is more than $700,000. We have prepared for this inevitability, but this is more severe than we anticipated.”

He said there are very few areas in schools where enough savings can be made to handle the cut.

“And they are not pleasant,” he said. “There is no way this does not affect the classroom. If (Riley) elects to deplete (the Rainy Day Fund) this year to avoid cuts, then next year we will certainly have drastic cuts which would impact the classroom, most likely increasing class sizes.”

Riley said in his announcement the second half of the Rainy Day Fund will be distributed during the remainder of the fiscal year.

Andalusia City Schools Superintendent Dr. Beverly McAnulty said she and other educators are “shocked” the percentage of proration was that high.

“In none of the conversations had we talked about a number that high,” McAnulty said. “We knew (proration) was coming but never dreamed it would be that much.”

McAnulty said the staff has begun running preliminary numbers and “it’s grim.”

“Before it’s all said and done, we could be looking at an $800,000 cut — that means we have to cut everything,” she said. “We thought we were doing a good job preparing for this. We thought our savings and our plans we’ve made would soften the blow, but now I don’t know.”

McAnulty said she and her staff plan to take a day to let the “shock wear off.”

“We’re going to get through it,” she said. “We’ll make it work and try and do it with the least angst to our staff. Right now, we need to sleep on it, take a fresh look in the morning.”

Covington County Schools Superintendent Sharon Dye too said the county schools were also going to adopt a wait and see attitude and are currently awaiting guidance from the state department of education.

“It’s worse than we thought it was going to be,” Dye said.