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School officials predict more job cuts

State revenues took another drop in February and the Grady County Board of Education, like other school boards in the state, are bracing for another tough budget in the new fiscal year beginning in July.
To get an early start on the process Superintendent Dr. Tommy Pharis outlined for the board members his recommended Fiscal Year 2011 budget plan.
“We are anticipating additional state cuts for FY11. I’d rather take it on the chin now and make some tough choices so we can get through this budget and have a positive school year next year,” Dr. Pharis told school board members Tuesday night.
From the top the superintendent said there are no “sacred cows” in the school system, but strongly came out against a massive reduction in force to balance the school system’s books in the next fiscal year.
Hoping that normal attrition through resignations and retirements will cover most of the ground, Pharis told board members he is looking to cut certificated personnel by 15 to 20 positions between the end of the current school term and the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1st.
“Our primary resource is personnel. The one thing I do not want to do is to get to the point we have to implement a large reduction in force to meet the budget,” Dr. Pharis said.
If 15-20 positions can be cut the superintendent says that would cut system expenses by $750,000 to $1 million.
“It’s going to be tough. Very tough. We are looking at all situations. We cannot run the school system without a certain number of personnel. We will not cut any personnel that will leave us with too few adults on school campuses to insure student safety and security,” Pharis said.
Dr. Pharis is also looking to reduce the number of classified personnel by a minimum of 10 to 15 positions, which would result in approximately $150,000 to $225,000 in reduced expenditures.
Under Pharis’ plan the system would have to maintain the current hiring freeze and not pay local supplements that were cut out in the current fiscal year spending plan. The system would also have to maintain the shorter work year for teachers in order to meet the budget.
In the 2011 fiscal year additional pay to teachers working extended day will be eliminated from the budget saving an additional $80,000. This is possible by shifting away from the block schedule at Cairo High School, according to Pharis.
The superintendent also is encouraging the board to delay setting a budget until September as has been the case in the last couple fiscal years. By delaying until later in the year the board has a better idea of what the cuts from the state will be as well as a more accurate number of the revenue to be raised through local ad valorem taxes.
During the current fiscal year, the school system has cut expenses by $2.2 million compared to the year prior. Now Pharis is looking for an additional  $1.4 to $1.75 million in cuts to school system expenses.
Relieving the local budget in a big way, according to the superintendent, will be the revenue from the recently renewed Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Dr. Pharis is transferring $675,000 in expenses from the general fund budget and will pay those expenses using ESPLOST proceeds.
“We cannot thank the local voters enough for approving the ESPLOST,” Dr. Pharis said.
However, Pharis and his administrative team will still have to find about $400,000 to cut from allotments, programs, services and line items in the upcoming fiscal year budget.
“We cut $318,000 out of line items in this current budget during a morning meeting. It’s not going to be that easy this year,” Pharis said.
The superintendent is strongly considering cutting out $80,000 to $100,000 used for after-school programs.
He will also recommend that the board evaluate the school system’s role in funding for Roddenbery Memorial Library. A 1946 agreement between the school board, the city of Cairo and Grady County dictates library funding be split between the three governing bodies. The city funds half with the remaining half being funded by the county and board of education.
Although he says you can never rule out a tax increase, Dr. Pharis says he and the board made a pledge not to increase property taxes when they asked the voters to renew the ESPLOST and Pharis remains committed to that pledge.
“Last year I said we would reduce personnel and programs but would not have a negative impact on instruction or security. In light of the additional cuts, this year I am saying we will cut personnel and programs some more but will have only minimal impact on the instructional program. We will do all we can to make the impact minimal,” Pharis said.
The superintendent says where he will not and cannot budge is on the impact to safety and security. “We will continue to provide adequate personnel to insure the safety and security of our students. Period,” Pharis said.
Before voting to adopt the superintendent’s proposed budget plan Board member Cuy Harrell III asked if  Pharis would adjust the plan as more information from the state became available.
“Absolutely,” Pharis responded and then added, “This is a start based on what we know today.”
Gov. Sonny Perdue released the report on state revenue collections for February and it indicated another 9.9 percent drop in revenues compared to February 2009. Overall, the states revenue is off this fiscal year by 12.7 percent compared to the last fiscal year.
That news makes Pharis concerned that the state will cut the local school system again before this fiscal year ends on June 30th. He believes the governor may also use some federal stimulus funds this year that had been earmarked for schools in the next fiscal year.
“Either way we are anticipating additional cuts,” Dr. Pharis said after reading the February report.
Board Chairman Drew Pyrz emphasized the plan is simply a tool to begin developing the budget. “We will have to adjust along the way,” Pyrz said.
School board members voted unanimously to adopt the plan recommended by Dr. Pharis.
In other business Tuesday night, the school board:
• Heard an instructional report from Whigham School Principal Demetrius Cox and Instructional Coordinator Sherry Moncrief.
• Accepted the retirements of Helen Martineau of Eastside; Dollye Brewer at Washington Middle School; and Betty Elkins and Nancy Kemp from Cairo High School. The board also accepted the resignations of Angela Copeland from CHS and Mary Mills from WMS.

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