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Bulloch schools get $4M boost
More state funding will help restore jobs, eliminate furloughs
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The Bulloch County Schools will receive $4 million more in state funding next school year than they have this year, Chief Financial Officer Troy Brown showed the Board of Education in a preliminary report Thursday.

Of that total, the state has mandated how $1 million will be spent. From the remaining $3 million, school district officials plan to eliminate furlough days and restore a few assistant principal posts and other jobs that had been cut in recent years. The money, Brown said, will also bring the school system much closer to a balanced budget than this year’s $3.5 million in deficit spending.

“Because of these infusions that we are receiving from the state, our future looks much brighter, our glass is much more full, this year than what it has been in the past with the state of the economy,” Brown told the board.

The system reduced its fund balance with this year’s deficit, but still has a balance exceeding 15 percent of its annual revenues. From 2008 to the current year the board cut local spending by about $11 million, and 97 jobs were eliminated through attrition.

This year’s budget projected $71.7 million in spending and $68.1 million in revenue. The state provides the largest share, and the biggest portion of that — totaling about $38 million — is Quality Basic Education funding, based on the number of students in each school and program.

Since 2008, the state has applied austerity cuts to QBE funding. Recently averaging around $6 million withheld each year, these cuts have totaled a little more than $30 million for Bulloch County alone, Brown said.

Governor’s proposal

But with an improving economy, Gov. Nathan Deal in his State of the State speech in January proposed restoring a portion of the school funding. The General Assembly has since approved his proposal as part of the budget for fiscal year 2015, which begins this July 1. Bulloch County will receive about $1.7 million in additional QBE funding, Brown said.

In his announcement, Deal said he wanted to eliminate teacher furlough days, restore school calendars to a full 180 class days and provide teachers a raise. However, as Brown observed, the state did not mandate these things, but left the exact use of the money to local school boards.

“By him giving that money, he gave boards the flexibility to be able to choose between those, among those or to do some sort of combination,” Brown said.

Board of Education Chairman Maurice Hill asked whether, with the attention on teacher raises, the state provided anything for school employees such as paraprofessionals, janitors and cooks.

The state sets salary scales for teachers, but Brown noted that other pay rates for staff members without teaching certificates are locally determined. Board member Vernon Littles said this should give the board the flexibility to do something “for the little guy” as well as teachers.

“In the budget we’ll be proposing going back to a full work calendar for everyone,” Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson said. “Between local funds and state funds, we’re trying to make sure everybody gets back to a full work calendar.”

More equalization

Besides the QBE increase, Bulloch County will receive a $1.3 million boost from the combination of an increase in its Equalization Grant and a decrease in Local Fair Share, a mandated level of local taxation deducted from state funding.

These long-established programs are intended to smooth differences in resources between poor districts and wealthy ones. Bulloch County dropped from Georgia’s 59th wealthiest school district to 68th, Wilson noted, so it now qualifies for a larger grant and a smaller Fair Share deduction.

The other $1 million gain is in a category Brown called “pass-through funding” because the state mandates how it will be used. Of this, $500,000 is for paying employee health insurance premiums and teacher retirement. The other $500,000 is an increase in state funding for regularly scheduled raises teachers get for years of experience or added education.

In spending subject to local control, Brown’s forecast showed $400,000 going to restore employees to the full number of days in their contracts, thus eliminating furloughs. Another $500,000 would go to restore, expand or add eight faculty and staff jobs.

One assistant principal position at Stilson Elementary School, one at Nevils Elementary School and one at Portal Elementary School had been reduced to half-time several years ago. Schools typically share these assistant principals, who work on each campus for a portion of the week.

Under the spending forecast, the Nevils, Portal and Stilson assistant principals will become full-time next year, and a half-time assistant principal will be added at Langston Chapel Elementary School.

Having only half-time assistant principals at some schools has created some concerns for handling discipline and safety, Wilson said.

Other positions he proposes adding back include a math content specialist, a science content specialist and an instructional technology specialist at the central office. With some offsetting gains and losses in the QBE formula, the system will also have a net gain of one teacher, to be added at Langston Chapel Middle School.

The school system will have to pay about $300,000 more to the teacher retirement system, Brown projected. But the governor froze an increase in school premiums for the state health insurance program. This had been expected to cost the Bulloch County Schools about $900,000. With the increase “put on pause,” Brown said, the staff is looking at privatizing insurance for non-certified employees in 2016.

Brown is still reviewing an increase in departmental budgets with other central office staff members, but projected a 4 percent increase in these. That would add about $400,000.

The county assessors have yet to complete the tax digest the Board of Education will need to set its local property tax rate. But the three-year average growth has been 2.26 percent, Brown said. He also anticipates 2 percent growth in sales tax revenue.

He plans to bring the board a budget proposal in April.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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