Shrinking state and federal funds are making it increasingly difficult for local school officials to balance the system’s fiscal year 2012 budget.
“We’ve got to make some tough decisions, and we’re prepared to do it,” said Will Wade, chairman of the Dawson County Board of Education. “That’s what the voters elected us to do.”
The school board and superintendent plan to study the budget, which is projected to be at least $3 million lighter than last year, during a special meeting at the end of March.
In addition to less state and federal money, Superintendent Keith Porter said the local tax digest may decline by as much as 12 percent, or $2.2 million.
Porter said there is also a projected increase in the amount each school employee pays for health insurance next year due to reductions in the state’s health care funding.
“We don’t get any encouraging news from anybody unfortunately,” said Elaine Wilson, board member. “It’s a little early to talk about a millage increase, but that may be our only alternative at this point.
“You can only squeeze a lemon so much, and we’ve squeezed the lemon ’til we don’t have much juice left.”
Last summer, the local school board voted unanimously to keep its portion of the millage rate at 13.646, the same level as the last nine years.
A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. Assessed value is 40 percent of actual market value.
“We’ve gone a lot of years without raising the millage [rate],” Wilson said. “We’ve tried to be as fiscally responsible as we can, but it comes to a point where you have to look after the kids.”
Porter said all options will be considered.
“We will continue to look for ways that we can reduce expenditures, but we’ve been reducing expenditures for several years now,” Porter said. “There’s a limit to how much more we can cut.”
The system also stands to receive about $350,000 less from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which could eliminate some positions that are funded by the federal money.
Last year, the school system implemented furlough days and lowered teacher salaries by 3 percent.
“We can continue to work toward cuts, but we’re talking about millions of dollars in revenues that we just don’t have,” Porter said.
The school board will meet March 31 to discuss the budget. The next scheduled work session is at 6:30 p.m. March 29.