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County schools face $3M cut

Facing a nearly $3 million reduction in funding over the next two years, the Covington County Board of Education said Tuesday it will have to tap into its reserves to keep the same level of services and personnel.

The CCS has six months worth of operating expenses in reserve.

Many other school systems around the state are issuing pink slips to non-tenured teachers and support staff following Gov. Bob Riley’s December declaration of 9 percent proration in the education budget. But that’s not the case in Covington County, according to school board officials.

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

“We know that this (school) system is people’s livelihoods and jobs,” said Shauna Robertson, the board’s chief financial officer. “It’s our responsibility to provide the best we can with the constraints we have … We want to keep people’s jobs and provide the best instructional program we can.

“Our board has done a great job in making sure we have the safeguards in place to make that happen,” she said.

Budget expectations for 2010 have the system receiving roughly $770,000 in state “stimulus” money and $1.5 million in federal “stimulus” money over the next two years, she said.

“Up front that looks like a lot of money,” she said. “But you have to take into consideration that our ‘other current expenses’ budget — which pays for things like support personnel, bus drivers, the people who aren’t teachers that run our school — was cut by $1 million.

“So that money we’re getting in stimulus funds doesn’t cover what we were cut,” she said.

Instead, the cuts translate to a nearly $3 million reduction in funds overall.

“Instead of the system having a surplus at the end of the fiscal year like everyone is used to, I anticipate going into the reserve (money),” she said. “I’m concerned. Thankfully, we have those reserves in place. We’re a sound school board that made wise decisions. It’s unfortunate we have to use it, but we’re fortunate we don’t have to do mass layoffs.”

The U.S. Department of Education is now allowing flexibility when using certain capital improvement monies, which can be used to cover salaries.

“We lost funding from the state for a teacher unit, but now we can use federal funds to cover that unit,” she said. “State and local monies make up 90 percent of our budget. Revenue for us is flat and is expected to decrease by 15 percent in 2009-2010.

“Overall, we’re still taking a hit,” she said.

Robertson said the system will continue to examine ways to cut expenditures, and the board’s decision to use federal funds to cover a teacher unit will “help the general fund.”

In other business, the board:

recognized nine employees on their retirement: Peggy Mobley, Virginia Wilson Solomon, Barbara Chesser, Irma Leach, Michael Purnell, Gaylen Simms, Wanda Barnes, Nollie Juanita Steward and Towanda Denise Stinson.

recognized sports teams who advanced beyond the county level.

recognized Steve Yelverton for not missing a day of school in 13 years.

recognized Jerry Merrill, David Lee Windham and Mickey Charles Norris for meeting the requirements by the State Department for school bus mechanics.