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Schools ‘disappointed’ by cuts

Local school superintendents said they were “disappointed” by news of additional cuts in the state’s education budget.

Friday, Gov. Bob Riley announced the state’s education budget would be cut another 2 percent and move up to 11 percent proration for the remainder of the budget year, which ends Sept. 30. He also released the final $116 million from the state’s Rainy Day Trust Fund.

The change was necessary because of a considerable drop in sales tax revenues. The adjusted budget for this year is $5.7 billion, compared to $6.7 billion in the 2007-08 budget year. The 2009-10 budget is $6.3 billion.

“I wasn’t surprised by the news,” Opp Superintendent Michael Smithart said. “But we are truly frustrated and disappointed. The timing of these cuts is especially damaging, because the additional 2 percent is taken from our final three state appropriations, which means an additional $161,000.”

Smithart said Opp City Schools has had to deal with cumulative cuts of almost $900,000 for the 2008-09 budget year.

Andalusia Superintendent Dr. Beverly McAnulty said the city school system will need to dip into its reserves to make up for the cuts at the state level.

“We have been expecting this,” she said. “It’s hard because all additional cuts will have to be absorbed in the first two months of the school year. Usually, this time of the year, there are small unspent balances that can help, but that is not the case this year.

“We’ve already tapped into our reserves and will have to go a little deeper.”

McAnulty said the additional proration translates to a 15 percent decrease in its state allocations for the last two months of this year.

Smithart said the OCS will also have to dip into its operative reserve, but that is not a viable long-term solution to the problem.

“It’s nice to have reserves and that’s what they’re for, but we can only prop ourselves up for so long,” he said. “Right now, there is no revenue source to replenish the reserves once they are depleted, and it appears we will begin the next fiscal year with at least 6 percent proration.”

Smithart said Opp City Schools allocates $200 for each teacher for instructional supplies, and that money will still be allocated despite proration.

“I don’t forsee us cutting that,” he said. “Our teachers need basic supplies and that is about all they will get with $200. We will handle the shortfall. We will continue to cut where we can and we will squeeze every penny we can.”

McAnulty and Smithart both said proration is likely in the 2009-10 education budget as well.

“At some point, the state and our city will have to address a long-rang solution to the periodic proration, if we truly believe our future is in our children,” she said. “In the meantime, our dedicated educators will do everything to provide the best instruction for our children.”

Covington County Superintendent Terry Holley could not be reached for comment.