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School district faces tough budget choices

School district faces tough budget choices

School district faces tough budget choices

    As the sluggish economy stubbornly hangs on and revenues keep declining, the Bulloch County school system has some tough choices to make to close a nearly $4 million spending gap.
    The four big cost-cutting ideas presented last week by Charles Wilson, the assistant superintendent of business and finance, to the school board are:
    ➤    Implementing five furlough days for next school year, and the years to come, for all staff. The average employee would take a 2.5-percent pay cut with those furlough days, and the district would save $1.7 million.
    ➤    Eliminating the K-5 assistant superintendent and administrative assistant positions and
consolidating their duties with staff in the 6-12 department: $157,000 savings.
    ➤    Eliminating the employer-paid $10,000 life insurance policy for all employees shifting the total cost of dental insurance to employees, for a $77,000 savings. However, these cuts might not be able to be imposed until midyear, which would cut that figure in half.
    ➤    Reducing department budgets by an average of 8 percent from their original proposed amounts as presented to the school board a month ago, for a $778,000 savings.
    But even those cuts only save a total of about $2.2 million, leaving another $1.7 million difference between expenses and revenue next fiscal year, said Wilson, who has been named the only finalist to be the district’s next superintendent.
    The department budget cuts would not be across-the-board, he said, because some departments would be able to cut more services than others. But some of those cuts did concern board member Anshul Jain.
    “If we eliminate repair and maintenance of equipment, how will that affect band students?” she said. “Band already is a large class. If some students have broken instruments, they might become a disruption.”
    As it stands now, the district won’t actually face a deficit. The fund balance can be used to make up the difference. But that gap will only continue to grow in subsequent years, eventually depleting the district’s $17.8 million fund balance, unless more cost savings – or revenue – can be found, Wilson said.
    He outlined other cost cuts that could begin in fiscal 2014:
    ➤    Cut 15 paraprofessional positions in elementary schools by June 2013, $375,000 savings
    ➤    Change the schedules at Statesboro and Southeast Bulloch high schools from the current block schedule to a seven-period day, $500,000 cost reduction
    Combined with the proposed fiscal 2013 cuts, the district would save about $3.1 million a year.
    Other areas identified for potential cuts in future fiscal years include eliminating art and music programs from elementary schools, eliminating police officers from Statesboro High School and reducing several 12-month employees’ schedules to 11 or 10 months.
    Wilson stressed that district staff will listen to concerns such as that expressed by Jain and will not make cuts that would seriously affect the district’s core mission of educating students.
    Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.

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