Officials hope to cut $1.3 million out of school budget

In the coming months, the Grady County Board of Education will be deliberating on the operating budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2012.
School board members face the daunting task of reducing the school district’s expenses by approximately $1.3 million.
“The only way to cut that much money is through personnel,” School Superintendent Dr. Tommy Pharis told members of the Grady County Board of Education last week.
With the loss of federal money and reduced funding from the state, Dr. Pharis said he does not believe increasing revenues at the local level through a millage increase is an option. The school board upped the millage 1.3 mills last year just to offset the loss of revenue due to the declining value of the county’s tax digest. With that small increase the school board collected $10,657 more than last year.
The superintendent says the school board was able to increase the school district’s cash reserves from about $1 million to $3.6 million. This fiscal year, the school board will dip into that reserve to the tune of $1.5 million to balance the 2011-2012 budget.
“We can’t afford to go back into reserves next year. We have to make substantial progress in balancing the budget by cutting $1.3 million in expenses,” Dr. Pharis told board members last Tuesday.
“We continue to have the same goal of maintaining the current number of days of classroom instruction and work days for staff. We also have the goal of keeping every teacher and staff person who is doing a good job and wants to work,” Dr. Pharis added.
The superintendent is planning to cut staff primarily through attrition, but he is not ruling out the possibility of a small reduction in force (RIF) to help close the anticipated budget gap.
According to Grady County School System Finance Officer Dan Broome, on average, it would take the elimination of 20 positions for every $1 million in payroll expense. “Based on an average salary if we had to cut the entire $1.3 million, we would be looking at about 25 positions,” Broome said.
Dr. Pharis says much thought and analysis will go into filling every position in the next fiscal year.
Since the 2008-2009 fiscal year, the general fund has been reduced by $2.36 million through a variety of cuts.
The superintendent is abandoning a plan to close Northside Elementary School and reorganize schools to shift all sixth through eighth grade classes to Washington Middle School.
“We talked about closing a school and moving kids around, but there is not a huge savings to closing a school. I’m not looking at wholesale school reorganization,” Dr. Pharis said.
Instead, the superintendent says the focus will be on larger class sizes and maximizing state funding. He is looking at classes of 25 to 28 students per teacher in the middle and high grades and up to 23-24 in kindergarten through fifth.
“It will be difficult, but I believe we can do it,” Dr. Pharis said.
Following the superintendent’s budget update, School Board Chairman Teresa Gee Harris said she did not object to having the discussions of proposals outlined generally by the superintendent, but in addition to Finance Officer Dan Broome, she would request school administrators be involved in the process as well.
The board chairman said her decision making process would focus on a balance between the strictly financial decisions, and what is in the best interest of the students and insuring a quality education for all students.
“I agree that is the correct approach, but I’m just telling you it will be a difficult year making up ground on $1.3 million,” Dr. Pharis said.
School officials are hopeful the school district will earn more state funding through the midterm allotment from the state to ease the pressure for budget cuts.
“If we don’t spend 100 percent of this year’s budget and we get a little more money from the state, that would help, but we’ve got to look at ways of cutting our expenses or the following fiscal year we will have major problems,” Broome said.

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