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“I’m hoarding all the money I can, just in case,” Grady County School System finance officer Dan Broome told members of the county board of education Tuesday night.
The school system held its monthly meeting this week, with board members and superintendent seated more than six feet apart at individual folding tables inside the VanLandingham Center.
Broome said his recommendation to Grady County school superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard, department directors and administrators was to suspend any spending except for necessities.
“I want to stay ahead of the game,” Broome said.
The finance officer says he remembers all too well the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 when due to state revenue shortfalls teachers had to be furloughed and in many systems positions were eliminated.
The shutdown of the economy due to COVID-19 has school system leaders concerned about the level of state funding when the state’s new fiscal year begins on July 1.
“What are we hearing from the state?” board member John White asked Gilliard and Broome.
Dr. Gilliard said that nothing official has come out of Atlanta, but in conference calls and on-line meetings he has participated in recently leaders in public education from across the state have expressed concern.
The superintendent reminded board members that the state’s 2020-2021 budget has yet to be finalized. A spending plan was passed by the Georgia House but was still in the Senate when the legislature suspended the session due to the pandemic.
In the meantime, the longtime chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, the late Sen. Jack Hill, passed away and there is some question as to who will take his place as chair of the powerful committee. According to Dr. Gilliard, Senator Hill had been a strong supporter of public education.
Broome said the state had assured local school systems that funding for the current fiscal year, which concludes on June 30, was intact.
“We have been told to expect the governor’s pay raise for teachers to be eliminated as well as an additional cut to the state income tax rate,” Dr. Gilliard said. He also said there are fears that a five percent raise for bus drivers and school nutrition service personnel may be in jeopardy.
According to Dr. Gilliard, some school officials are predicting the possibility of furloughs.
The county school system currently has a cash reserve of approximately $5 million, and Dr. Gilliard anticipates the system will be able to weather a financial storm in the next fiscal year, unless the economy does not rebound as quickly as predicted.
The Grady County school superintendent said he was concerned that once the shelter-in-place orders are lifted, the economy may not rebound as quickly as some think, and will likely take longer to recover than it took to tank.
With those thoughts in mind, the superintendent recommended a freeze on hiring, except for positions that must be filled, until he and Broome have a better understanding of what the level of state funding will be in the next fiscal year.
“So, it’s not looking pretty,” White summarized.
“We’re not counting on it. It probably will be a tough year. We will be looking at all projects we have planned and not jump out there until we have some firm budget figures,” Dr. Gilliard said.
“The next few months will tell the tale,” board member Jeff Worsham stated.
One project that is now underway is the new cafeteria at Northside Elementary School. The board voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve the final contract for the project at a cost of $1,808,065.
Dr. Gilliard also updated the board on a move to bid out the cafeteria equipment and not to include it in the contract for the project in order to save approximately $100,000. According to the superintendent, the system was able to avoid paying sales taxes on the equipment as well as fees to the construction manager and architect. Broome said that some of the equipment that had been specked out was determined not necessary by school nutrition program director Mallory Barrett, which also reduced the system’s expenses. The board voted to accept the bid of $295,068.27 from Manning Brothers of Athens for the cafeteria equipment.