The possibility of losing more than $250,000 of his operating budget has Dawson County’s school superintendent planning for cutbacks.
“We lost a quarter of a million dollars from our budget, and when we lose a quarter of a million dollars, it doesn’t sound like a great deal, but it really puts the burden on us to do the normal day to day operations,” Nicky Gilleland said.
In August, Gov. Sonny Perdue put on hold the $428 million homeowners tax relief grant program, as well as cut spending for schools and other programs.
Georgia’s Homeowner’s Tax Relief Grant sends money to counties, which then pass it along to homeowners in the form of tax credits.
As a result, local property owners have seen between $150 to $300 in tax credits on their annual tax bills, said Dawson County Tax Commissioner Linda Townley.
Gilleland said the school system, which is funded in part by property taxes, has gone to great lengths to cut spending. Absorbing that much money, however, has been close to impossible.
“Eighty-six or eighty-seven percent of operating costs off the top is salary,” he said. “Our fixed cost for personnel was already established.
“Then the state had to take $250,000 immediately away from that. We couldn’t take that away from our salaries that are under contract.”
Instead, officials trimmed energy costs, textbooks and transportation, among other areas.
“We immediately put a freeze on a lot of things,” Gilleland said. “We froze spending, we froze new hires.”
If the legislature sides with the governor and does not fund the homeowners tax relief grant, Gilleland said, the school district will be forced to do “one of two things.”
“Either take a $600,000 hit, and I don’t know how we could do that in this fixed budget that we’ve got,” he said. “Or send a second tax bill out to the citizens, and say the government at the state did not fund your tax relief grant, therefore you’ll have to pay that extra money.”
While he is concerned about the current budget, Gilleland said he is more worried about the upcoming school year’s operating budget.
Class sizes, pay raises and programs such as music, physical education and art could be affected.
“We’re really anxious to see what happens in January and February,” Gilleland said.
School board member Will Wade said the only answer at this point is to prepare for the crisis and consider how to move forward.
“It’s a train,” he said. “We all hear it, and we all know it’s coming, so we’ve all got to be ready.”