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BoE looks at bottom line
Stimulus money, proposed budget cuts and tax hike will trim deficit some, but not all
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Bryan County school officials crunched more numbers during a called Board of Education meeting Monday. The bottom line?

Even with a proposed 1.5 mill tax hike, the addition of $1.7 million in stimulus money and nearly $3 million in budget cuts, school system expenses will outpace expected revenue by $900,000 in the 2010 fiscal year, Finance Chief Melanie James told school board members.

Money to plug the gap may come from the school system’s $4.9 million reserve, which is also under pressure from the potential for increased construction costs at the new Richmond Hill Middle School and more cutbacks in state funding. Bryan County has lost more than $6 million in state funding due to austerity cuts since 2003.

Another option to make up the projected deficit is stopping the transferring of money into the system’s capital projects fund, according to Interim School Superintendent John Oliver.

Whatever the BoE decides, the shortfall is blamed on a number of factors, from deeper-than-expected cuts in state funding to the economy.

"What we’re trying to do is continue to maintain our quality of education," Oliver said. "We have not really reduced any programs that I can think of. They just might not have quite as much support as they’ve had in the past."

Last year, Bryan County Schools ran on a budget of $53.5 million. It is expected to be $50.7 million this year.

School officials have reducing spending in a number of areas, but one cut in particular struck a nerve with District 5 Representative Judy Crosby, who blasted a proposal to cut one school nurse at the K-5 complex in Richmond Hill.

"A child’s life is more significant than sports," Crosby said, referring to an increase in money spent on coaching supplements. "What the board is saying is that these athletic supplements are more important than a school nurse."

District 3’s Charlie Johnson pointed out the increase came not because individual coaches got raises but instead because girls’ volleyball has been added to both high schools beginning this fall, which requires additional coaches.

"I’ve looked through this and I don’t see any coach getting a pay raise."

Oliver noted the decision to cut the nurse came with the blessing of the principals at both Carver and Richmond Hill Elementary, who will share a registered nurse while Richmond Hill Primary will keep its nurse. The three schools share adjoining campuses.

Overall, the school board will keep three nurses in North Bryan while reducing the number in South Bryan to four. But that could change, Oliver said.

"We’ve cut it to seven this year but that comes with the understanding that if it overwhelms our nurse sharing between Carver and Richmond Hill Elementary, nothing says we can’t go back and revisit that," he said.

Despite cutbacks, BoE members were up for an increase in per diem after the school board last year approved a resolution asking the state for an increase in the per diem rate from $50 to $150 per meeting, with a $300 monthly cap.

The increase was OK’d recently by Gov. Sonny Perdue, but District 4 member Joe Pecenka suggested BoE members refuse to accept the increase.

"I know it’s not a lot of difference in the overall budget, but it’s the principal," he said.

Other members agreed and asked Oliver to research the issue.

He said some former BoE members either donated their per diem to the schools or voluntarily capped it. Longtime Vice Chair Frances Meeks never accepted a per diem during her time on the BoE..

The BoE’s 2009 budget ends July 30 and the 2010 fiscal year begins July 1. The new budget is expected to be on the BoE’s June 25 agenda, but interim Superintendent John Oliver asked BoE members to be prepared to approve a spending resolution if the budget isn’t ready.

This year's budget has been slowed somewhat because of the state, which has cut funding more than once in recent months.

A spending resolution allows the school system to operate on a monthly basis until the budget is approved.

"I see no harm in that," Oliver said. "Some see it as an ill, but all it means is we can continue doing business."

If approved, thep proposed millage rate increase would be the BoE’s first since 2002 and bring in an estimated $1.8 million. If the hike is approved, the BoE’s total millage rate will be 15.037 mills.

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