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School budget gets OK
Plan tightened after drop in tax digest
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Despite tight funding and freezing 10 positions for the 2009-10 year, Nicky Gilleland said the Dawson County school system is in a good position.


“We haven’t had to cut programs or people from our system, which is what would have the most negative effect on learning,” said Gilleland, outgoing school superintendent. “With the budget we have, we will still be able to maintain a quality school system.


“We have plans for the future and will be determined to continue to move forward.”


At more than $36 million, the budget the school board approved Monday night is about $170,000 shy of what the district had to work with last year.


And it’s about $180,000 less than what was tentatively planned for just a month ago, when officials projected a growth rate of about 1.44 percent.


“The numbers for the county’s tax digest just came in and they were down from last year,” Gilleland said. “That is what has decreased the budget from what we had tentatively thought we’d have.”


Despite the financial challenges, board member Elaine Wilson remains optimistic for the future.


“A good education will stay in place,” she said.


District officials hope to avoid having to shed programs and personnel. According to Gilleland, salaries and benefits for the system’s 500 employees make up 86 percent of the budget.


“Many local systems are having to cut (employee) benefits to make their budgets work,” he said. “We have yet to [have to].”


Gilleland said the board is doing its best to make the budget work.


“We have not raised the millage rate in about eight years, and we’re not expecting to raise it this year,” he said. “We are going to do our best to make the budget work with the current revenues.”


Along with leaving open 10 positions, spending at the individual schools has been slashed. Together, those two steps have saved about $755,000.


“As budgets grow and the economy improves, we will have to come back and get the budget back in line,” Gilleland said.


State funding to local school systems has declined steadily since 2003, with a projected loss of about $1.2 million from the general fund this year.


But the county will receive some federal stimulus money, which will help offset that drop-off, though the district must follow strict rules in spending it.


“Some organizations chose to not accept government funds because of the requirements and hoops you have to jump through, but we do not have that option,” said Gilleland, adding that any stimulus money would be spent carefully.


The district wants to use a portion of the stimulus money, known as stabilization funds, to save the positions of three graduation coaches, three paraprofessionals and one teacher that otherwise would have had to be cut.


“The stabilization funds have to be used in a manner that saves jobs, which is the way we were told to use it and is what we have to report back to Washington,” Gilleland said.


Other stimulus money will go to support one position for Reading Recovery, an intensive one-on-one reading program for first-graders.


Taking into consideration that stimulus funding likely will last just two years. To that end, Gilleland said the board must be selective in using the money so as not to burden the system with items that won’t receive money past 2011.


E-mail Elizabeth Hamilton at