The Dawson County Board of Education on Monday approved a tentative $32.3 million budget for fiscal year 2014, which represents a drop of about $3 million from 2013.
"We reduced staff by 42 positions last year and will continue to cut staffing as possible," said Dawson County Superintendent Keith Porter.
"After five years of cuts, we are to the point that we will have to cut programs and look at all options to make the budget work this year."
Porter attributed the staff cuts, in part, to the continuing decline of the local tax digest since 2008.
"We have been told that the tax digest will take a dramatic fall again this year," he said. "So we will not only have over $500,000 in new expenses, but also a potential loss of $1.9 million in revenue due to the declining tax digest and tax exemptions."
The school system's local funding is determined by a millage, or property tax, rate. A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. Assessed value is 40 percent of actual market value.
"This year, we will be trying to manage a negative budget impact of close to $2.5 million over last year, in addition to the cuts of the past few years," Porter said.
"Although it appears that the economy is gaining momentum overall, in education we are seeing none of the same momentum, as we are still faced with the state amended formula cuts of over $2 million each year and still have 5 mills of our taxes withheld by the state, with Dawson County Schools receiving no return funding on our contribution."
The issue with the tax digest is compounded by the rising rates of employee benefits, according to Porter.
He said the school board is still in the process of determining the full impact of health insurance and teacher retirement costs on the 2014 budget.
For the current fiscal year, the school district was required to pay $912 per month, per certified employee for health insurance. That will increase to $960 in the coming year.
The district also continues to pay an additional $86.10 per month, per certified employee in an attempt to help offset the burden on employees. It's one of the few systems in the state to do so, but that adds up to $3.1 million a year in employee health insurance.
Despite the financial issues, Porter said teachers and administrators have managed to keep up student achievement.
"The good news is that our students are still performing at high levels," he said. "Our faculty, staff and administrators have shown true professionalism over the past few years by providing the services our students need while working less days, making less pay, receiving less training and having the students fewer days.
"It has really been remarkable."