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Financial future grim for school system
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The Dawson County Board of Education approved a $35 million budget for fiscal year 2013 on Monday.

The proposed spending plan, which is down from about $38 million in fiscal year 2012, took another hit Monday when the 2013 tax digest came in nearly 15 percent lower than last year.

According to school system officials, that will amount to about $3 million less in revenue.

Combined with last year’s 10.5 percent drop in the tax digest, the system has experienced more than a 25 percent decrease in two years.

The falling tax digest comes in the wake of less state and federal funding in recent years and rising health care insurance premium costs.

Superintendent Keith Porter said the situation makes it increasingly difficult to balance resources and expenditures.

During their meeting Monday, school board members hung their heads and whispered exasperations. Principals and administrative staff sat in stunned silence.

Chairwoman Elaine Wilson summarized the heavy mood: “It almost makes you want to cry.”

Porter reminded the board and staff that to reach this budget they cut more than 30 positions totaling nearly $2 million.

“It is becoming more and more difficult to provide the services that our children deserve,” he said after the meeting.

“We haven’t adopted new textbooks in seven years. We have continued to raise the class sizes due to the reductions in staffing. With this year’s reductions, we have no buffer to continue to absorb positions, so this reduction strategy has been maximized. 

“None of the future options are palatable in the least, but additional drastic measures will have to be considered.”

Jamie Ulrich, the system’s director of financial services, was applauded for her work, but said she is still discouraged by the “very dire situation.”

When waiting for the tax digest to be finalized by county officials she said the board was hoping for an 11 percent decrease, not the 14.93 percent it received.

Porter said it got worse when the county commission raised the collection fee to the maximum allowable. 

“It is proposed at 2.5 percent, which is up from 1.75 percent,” he said. “This will cost the system over $120,000.”

Looking forward, Porter said he is “truly concerned” for the future of the school system.

“Our budgetary challenges deepen each year,” he said. “If not for all of the cuts that have been made and the continued reductions in benefits and salary to our staff, then we would not be able to make this year’s budget work. 

“Our ending fund balance has given us the ability to make this year’s budget balance. However, the payday is coming if we aren’t provided relief from the state budget soon. The FY 14 budget projections are ominous at best.”

Current projections predict the fiscal year 2014 beginning fund balance to be $3.5 million, down by about a half from the nearly $7 million for fiscal year 2013.

Board member Roger Slaton was not at Monday’s meeting. Following executive session, the board voted to extend Porter’s contract as superintendent for three years.