Schools unsure where to cut

Published 12:12 am Thursday, December 18, 2008

Local school officials say they do not know yet what cuts will be made in light of Gov. Bob Riley’s announcement of 9 percent proration for the state education budget.

Riley’s implementation Monday of the Deficit Prevention Plan included a hiring freeze on state workers, merit pay raises and purchases of new state vehicles and 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. That figure was reduced to 9 percent after the withdrawal of half of the amount available in the Rainy Day Fund for education.

Proration is the process of cutting spending when revenues fall short of budgeted expectations.

On Monday, Andalusia City School System superintendent Dr. Beverly McAnulty said preliminary numbers showed a “grim” situation and by Wednesday said it was “premature to say exactly what cuts we will make.”

“We won’t make any decisions until after the first of the year,” she said. “We’re waiting to receive specific information from the state department of education, and until they give us some detail relative to figures and flexibility, it is premature to say specifically what cuts we will make.

“Obviously, we are going to look at all general costs and encourage savings,” she said. “Every line item will have to be considered — textbooks, professional development, supplements, transportation and utilities. Personnel decisions will be made last since we are pretty committed to personnel for this year.”

Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart said the OCS stands to lose approximately $700,000 out of its annual budget this year.

“You can’t turn off enough lights to make up that kind of money,” Smithart said. “It’s not a very pleasant situation, but we took steps last fiscal year to carry over money to offset some of this, but if we are going to continue to provide the same level of service our students need, we are going to see a decrease in our general fund.

“Based on how we fund schools in Alabama, you run this risk,” he said. “What we have to do is just like everyone else, when you have those good years, you put money back to prepare for these situations. That is what we did, and realistically, we can manage, but it takes years to build reserves and one year like this can deplete them.”

Covington County Schools Superintendent Sharon Dye said the biggest portion of their system’s budget is salaries and benefits.

“However, those cannot be reduced this current school year,” she said. “Our plan is to cut in areas we that we can, but the greater cuts will come with the 2009-2010 school year budget.”

That is exactly what Shauna Robertson, CCS chief financial officer, predicted in September after local systems received final word on state funding after the governor approved the highly debated education budget in June when she said 2010 is too far away to know for sure how the budget will be impacted.

“However, the state department of education had expressed, that based upon the current economic conditions, there will most likely be further major cuts to that budget,” she said.