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Tentative school budget facing cuts, higher fees
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The Dawson County Board of Education approved a tentative $35 million budget for fiscal year 2013 on Monday.

The proposed spending plan, which contains about $8.8 million in reductions, will be revisited in the weeks ahead before final approval next month.

According to school system officials, less state and federal funding in recent years has made it increasingly difficult to balance resources and expenditures.

"It is a very dire situation," Jamie Ulrich, the system's director of financial services said. "The governor comes out and he says he didn't cut education, but we are being cut still through the austerity cuts and it is brushed under the table ... hidden."

While Ulrich said austerity cuts this fiscal year may not be as severe, they still total an estimated $2.1 million.

"Our austerity cuts are funds that we earn that are not being sent to us," Ulrich said.

The tax digest, which is also subject to change while waiting to be finalized, shows an estimated 12 percent drop, Ulrich said. Last year, the digest fell 10.5 percent.

"We have lost $2.7 million with the 12 percent reduction in the digest and the commissioner's collection," Ulrich said.

By far one of the biggest financial obstacles has been increased health care insurance premiums enforced by the Department of Community Health, officials said.

The hike at first totaled $50 per month for each of the system's more than 230 classified employees, who include bus drivers, custodians and lunchroom workers.

As of last week, however, officials were notified of an increase for certified staff, such as teachers and administrators.

"What has happened is that now our certified, our teaching staff, who was supposed to have their insurance come in around $800 per month, per employee has actually come in at $912.34 per month. That's another $400,000," Ulrich said.

In addition, School Superintendent Keith Porter said it's the little numbers that continue to create hurdles.

As an example Monday, he cited charter school funding coming in short.

"Even when we got our charter schools money the other day, it was supposed to be around $305,000 and instead it was cumulative to around $210,000," he said.

We are trying to work with the state to find out where the rest of our money went for our allotments. There are just a lot of things. We are talking about $100,000 here and $400,000 there."

To combat the fiscal challenges the board recently made personnel cuts. The proposed budget shows staff reductions totaling about $1.6 million, according to Porter.

"We have aggressively cut expenditures this year," he said. "We absorbed a lot of positions and I don't know if we can do that again. We've got it down there to the point that it would be very hard."

Other budget-tightening strategies for the fiscal year include adding six teacher furlough days and continuing to freeze programs.

In the past such measures have also included temporarily suspending employee's health insurance supplements, increasing the millage rate and reducing student days.

Ulrich said that it's not just the local system facing tightening budgets, it's statewide.

The school system in neighboring Forsyth County recently announced that its projected revenue will come nearly $5.2 million short of covering the proposed $268.3 million budget for next year.

"Every day another system is in trouble with the budget," she said. "We are trying to look down the road to what we can anticipate and it's kind of hard to know. And we have to make this year work still."

Porter emphasized that Dawson's budget is not finalized. It will be discussed again at the board's next work session, set for 6:30 p.m. June 5, and in regular meeting, 6:30 p.m. June 11. Both sessions will be held at the central office, 517 Allen St.