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BOE: Tax hike 'off the table'
Fund balance reserves will make up budget shortfall
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Bulloch County Board of Education members will continue discussion tonight on the 2012 fiscal year budget facing hard choices and less funding to deal with the choices.
    During its regular meeting beginning at 6:30 in the central office boardroom on Williams Road, Board members will consider recommendations cutting about $3 million from the budget and dipping into the general fund balance to make up the remaining $2.3 million shortfall for the next fiscal year.
    Last year, the school board approved a millage rate increase from 9.45 to 9.95 mills, but no tax hike is planned for this year, said Edwin Hill, a school board member.
    “We have taken a millage increase off the table,” he said. “I believe the staff has looked at the budget and I’m comfortable the cuts are responsible and will not harm our education mission.”
        Charles Wilson, assistant superintendent of Business and Finance, cited the primary causes of the shortfall as a cutback in state funding, the loss of federal stimulus dollars, reduced revenue from Esplost sales tax collections and declining property values, at the same time student enrollment is increasing an average of 200 students per year. Bulloch currently has about 9,600 students in the public school system.
        Wilson said about 50 percent of the school system's approximately $81.6-million operating budget is funded by the state. The rest comes from federal funding, a portion of Bulloch's local sales tax and from a designated portion of property taxes paid by residents.
        Budget cuts proposed by Wilson and his staff include reducing grade chair stipends, reducing supplies, stipends, substitutes, fees and books and eliminating purchases of maps/globes and books for teaching and learning in kindergarten through fifth grades.
    Also, the system staff was reduced by 79 over the past three years due to retirements or resignations and those positions will not be replaced. Another 21 positions will be eliminated next year that will not be replaced, as well. Finally, all staff will be furloughed for two days, which is down from three days for the just completed school year and six for the 2009-10 school year.
    “I think we’re in great financial shape when compared to other school systems in the area and across the state,” said Lewis Holloway, superintendent of Bulloch schools. “Our area has not been hit as hard economically as most in the state and the conservative and long-range planning approach of our board and staff has kept us stable.”
    However, even with the general funding and position cuts and furlough days, the system still must take $2.3 million out of its fund balance to cover all planned expenditures.
    “We actually thought last year was going to be the big hit to our fund balance and we had planned for that,” Wilson said. “But the federal stimulus money was extended for a year and a state cut of $1.6 million we expected didn’t happen, so the plans we put in place to make up for the shortfall last year we have ready to implement now.”
    The $2.3 million taken out of the fund will leave a balance of $16.5 million.
    “Our reserves are in good shape as we plan looking forward three, four and five years,” Wilson said.
    Hill said it is likely some members of the board will initiate discussion of increasing the millage rate, but he’s confident the board consensus is to keep the rate unchanged.
    “It is responsible to methodically look at all ways to best manage the budget,” Hill said. “And the board will study the millage. But we’re not looking at changing the rate this year.”

James Healy can be reached at (912) 489-9402.

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