Proration expected

Published 12:46 am Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Despite Gov. Robert Bentley’s inaugural pledge to create jobs and his promise that Alabama’s best days are ahead of her, local educators are prepared for proration.

On Saturday, Bentley warned hundreds of teachers attending a state education summit that the fiscal 2011 budget is not shaping up the way officials had hoped, and as a result, proration is something he’s considering.

“If we have to declare proration, it ought to be done now, so it can be restored later,” he said Saturday. Since then, Bentley has stated he will make a determination on proration in the first weeks of his administration.

“I think we all anticipate proration,” said Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart, who predicted between 3 percent and 5 percent proration. “The actual percentage is difficult to determine because there are still a number of variables at play, such as a settlement with BP could certainly offset some of the reductions in tax collections.”

For Andalusia City Schools, the worst-case proration scenario equates to an estimated $500,000 loss for this fiscal year, said Superintendent Ted Watson.

“Now, we’re looking at what they call a new education economic reality,” Watson said. “The biggest fear for all systems statewide – not just Andalusia – is how do we maintain what’s in place. It’s a battle. Since 2008, we’ve had a series of one-time monies that’s bailed us out. Those aren’t there anymore. You have to hope the economy recovers at a drastic rate, but you’d have to see phenomenal growth in the local economy to make up that kind of a difference.”

Shauna Robertson, chief financial officer for the Covington County School System, at a recent board meeting, said, “For the most part, there’s been no change in our financial status.

“When we look at the total collections for sales tax and compare it to last year, we’re breaking even – which is a good thing if you look at the state as a whole,” she said.

For Opp Schools, county sales tax collections were down about 3 percent from the 2008 levels compared to final numbers for FY2010.

Totals for the Andalusia City School System presented at its last board meeting show from FY2008 to FY2010, the district held steady in its sales tax collections for education at just over $975,000 annually.

Now, the figures are in for the first quarter of the 2011 fiscal year, and because of December sales, systems are soon to receive the largest disbursements of sales tax collections seen in nearly a year.

Andalusia City Schools estimate they’ll receive $90,400 – which is nearly $8,000 more than November’s collections and a dollar amount not seen since January 2010.

Still, educators are wondering how their overall funding level will be impacted.

“I certainly don’t feel there is a climate to increase revenue,” Smithart said. “The funding cliff we have talked about is upon us. The loss of federal stimulus dollars, state stabilization funds and the recent Jobs Bill will have a great impact. For us, the loss of these funds will require us to account for an additional $900,000 in order to maintain our current program and that’s prior to any state reductions.

“I don’t think we can anticipate another lifeline from Washington,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, it is time for Alabamians and citizens of this county to decide the importance of education to our young people.”