45 school jobs tied to stimulus

Published 12:05 am Thursday, February 3, 2011

Local school systems are looking for ways to keep staff members funded by stimulus funds. | Courtesy photo

Local school boards will have some tough decisions to make to keep its current levels of staffing for the next school year, officials said Wednesday.

The lack of funding could mean the cuts of at least 45 employees.

Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart informed board members of the impending situation Wednesday.

“We used the stimulus money to retain staff (these last couple of years),” Smithart said. “There are a lot of salaries being paid out of this one-time money. We are expending stimulus funds primarily in support areas.”

Those salaries, including benefits, equate to about $856,000 or 14 teacher salaries that the school board will have to come up with before it even takes into consideration the possible 10 percent budget cuts Gov. Robert Bentley is exploring for next year.

Bentley warned education officials in January that the fiscal 2011 revenue is not shaping up the way officials had hoped, and as a result, proration is something he is considering. As a result proration may be necessary this year.

Smithart said there aren’t many positions that aren’t necessary within the entire school system.

Smithart said the system’s enrollment should add .5 teacher units to the 78.63 units it is currently funded.

Even with that, Smithart said at a 10 percent cut and an increase in the divisor by one, which is the total number of students allotted per teacher, the system could lose state funding for four or five teachers.

A 10 percent cut would mean about $700,000 for the school system, Smithart said.

“That would mean to retain what we have, we would have to maintain about $1.6 million in additional expenses we’ve got to come up with,” he said. “There is an urgency and dire straits within the entire state, and nearly $1.6 million is a big hole for Opp City Schools to fill. We are going to have to make difficult decisions.”

The school system does have 2.9 months of expenses, or $2.08 million, in reserves.

Andalusia City Schools is currently funding 20 employees through various stimulus programs, Superintendent Ted Watson said.

That figure equates to about $1 million, he said.

Of those 20 people, four are professional staff members and the others are janitorial personnel, aides and other personnel.

“Our biggest hope is that the state will kick back into the (operating expenditures) funds,” he said. “It’s still a scary situation for everyone in the state with the stimulus money being taken away.”

Watson said he hopes the state will figure out a way to fund education without proration next year.

“Whether it be a drop in teacher days or a change in the divisor, we hope they will fund us,” he said. “More than a third and nearly half of all the school systems are operating off of lines of credit.”

The city school system has the one-month required operating balance, which is $976,000, in reserves.

While, it’s no secret that Covington County Schools are in the most sound financial shape in the state, reserve wise, they won’t be immune to losing federal stimulus money.

The federal stimulus funds currently pay salaries of 11.5 employees, which include support personnel, Chief Financial Officer Shauna Robertson said. The 11.5 employees’ salaries equate to $650,000.

The system is in a position to absorb the costs of losing the stimulus funding, thanks to careful planning.

“It’s a very scary situation. We’re very sympathetic to other school systems,” she said. “We’ve been preparing for it since 2009. The whole time we’ve been cutting back by attrition. Our board doesn’t like to fund local units.”

Robertson said the board reserves local funds to pay for utilities and other such expenses.

Another investment, Robertson said, has helped cut expenses is that Superintendent Terry Holley purchased four cars from the state surplus at $8,400, and now school personnel are required to use those cars for travel.

“We no longer reimburse for mileage,” she said. “This has saved us thousands of dollars.”

Robertson said while everyone is waiting on the governor to declare proration this year, she’s already predicted the 3 percent.

The county school system currently has 7.7 months’ reserve, which is more than the $1.75 million required for one month’s operations.

Still, Robertson said it takes $2 million each month to make the system’s payroll.