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Budget crisis forces school system to cut back

Measures include lowering energy costs, staff freeze

POSTED: September 14, 2008 5:05 a.m.

Budget cuts at the state level are trickling down to the Dawson County School System.

 

A $250,000, or 2 percent, state budget reduction, has forced the local school district to make cuts.

 

With required personnel hired and under contract, Dawson County School Superintendent Nicky Gilleland said, “We can’t take that (money) from salaries.”

 

The cuts, instead, will be made to the remaining 14 percent of the $35.9 million budget approved June 2, which accounts for energy costs, instructional materials, transportation, media supplies and textbooks, to name a few.

 

“We’ll be turning the air conditioning up and turning off lights when they are not in use,” he said.

 

Activities such as field trips and out-of-town sporting events could be cut to conserve fuel costs.

 

Several staff positions have also been frozen.

 

“We’ve had a few of our staff in the cafeterias and some from the janitorial staff volunteer to work less hours, and we’re taking them up on their offers,” Gilleland said. “We’re going to do what we can to get by while still providing the students with quality educational opportunities.”

 

Gilleland said the school system will make every effort to adjust without the state’s $250,000, but also said come January, the $250,000 shortfall could just be the tip of the iceberg.

 

“When the legislature meets in January their first item of business is the mid-term budget. School system growth, new school staff and other adjustments that occur to school systems are items considered for funding.”

 

Any new teachers added for student growth or personnel for the new Dawson County Middle School would have been funded up front by the school system.

 

After new student population is counted and new data collected, the state determines if the school system growth is legitimate and pays its share, about 43 percent, of the total costs to the school system.

 

Gilleland said the amount is about $250,000.

 

“If the economy does not improve, the legislature could decide not to fund this growth and would force local systems to pick up the full cost of pupil growth in the system,” Gilleland said.

 

Facing a budget deficit estimated at about $1.6 billion due to revenue shortfalls, Georgia is looking at ways to make cuts, many of which trickle down to county and city governments and school systems.

 

One of the proposals made by Gov. Sonny Perdue is holding the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant, which is a state reimbursement to local governments of money they lose on the homestead exemption on property taxes, which averages about $200 to $300 per household. The Homeowners Tax Relief Grant is basically a way to keep property taxes lower without reducing local government revenues.

 

“Gov. Perdue has publicly stated he does not like the tax relief grant and has frozen the funds for this year. The funds will have to be paid to the county unless the legislature votes to not fund this grant program,” Gilleland said.

 

If the legislature votes against funding the bill, the Dawson County School System is positioned to lose between $550,000 and $600,000 in school funding.

 

“All together, that’s close to $1 million, worst case scenario. A million dollars, we can’t absorb that,” Gilleland said.

 

Gilleland said he’s hopeful legislators will see the need to fund the bill, rather than allowing school systems that are already seeing a crunch, foot the costs.

 

“We’re optimistic, but at the same time, we’re being proactive just in case,” he said.

 

In a letter sent late last month to school system staff, Gilleland asked everyone to conserve energy costs.

 

“Supplies and materials need to be used wisely and any new orders must be an extreme necessity,” Gilleland wrote. “Limit traveling for professional development and scrutinize every field trip to ensure the time and money needed for the trip are vital to our students’ progress.”

 

E-mail Michele Hester at michele@dawsonnews.com.

 

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