Superintendent watching budget process

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 23, 2010

After back-to-back years of proration of the education budget, school superintendents across the state are watching and waiting for the education budget to come before the legislature.

Like most of his peers across Alabama, Opp City Schools superintendent Michael Smithart is anxious for word from Montgomery, but has a pretty good idea of what lies ahead.

“Since there is not a new revenue stream in Alabama, I personally think we could see a 10 percent reduction in the state’s teaching force,” Smithart said.

For the Opp City School system, that would be a cut of eight to nine teachers and that doesn’t even begin to touch the support personnel.

At present, Opp City Schools has 92 teachers and 161-support personnel and Smithart anticipates at least a 10 percent cut in support personnel

Where those cuts would be made has yet to be determined.

“By law we have to teach the core,” Smithart said “Everything else is extra. But, first we’ll have to look at the supplemental programs. The things you have to cut are programs and activities that make a difference.”

Still, the Opp school system is in better shape that some 60 others in the state, Smithart said. “We have about 2 and a half months of reserves,” he said. “Many school systems are operating on lines of credit.”

Unfortunately, those reserves will decrease this year. Already, in fact those reserves are already being depleted, he said. Opp City Schools opened the school year with 3.2 months of operating costs in reserve.

Smithart said the system thought it was in really good shape until the governor declared the additional 3 percent proration in the last budget year.

“We had to dip into our reserves,” he said.

Reserves are supposed to help during a funding crisis, but Smithart said school systems aren’t equipped to operate on back-to-back-to-back prorated budgets.

Opp City Schools received $600,000 less than anticipated this budget year.

“The problem is you are spending reserves now,” he said.

Smithart said he hopes for the best, but said that as a whole, Opp City Schools must come to realization that they are no longer the 5A school of the past, but a 3A school and “we can’t staff our school like a 5A school. We can’t provide some things we used to.”