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Our Views: BOE fiscal approach is practical and wise
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      In the end, saving $50,000 when you are attacking a $4 million shortfall only lessens that huge number by about 1.3 percent. But sometimes cutting a little shows you are willing to make some difficult decisions when it comes to cutting a lot.
       Interim Bulloch County superintendent Fran Stephens announced last week that open houses for the system's elementary, middle and high schools would be held during mid-morning and early afternoon instead of the traditional late afternoon and early evening times from past years.
       That decision has upset the parents of some students because some now will need to take off time from work in order to attend an open house for their child or children. Some may not be able to go because they can't get off from work. Their reasons why they don't like the switch in times certainly are understandable.
       However, Bulloch County school officials made the decision to change times for a very practical reason - it will save $50,000 in energy costs over the course of the school year. It's a little hard to get your head around how simply moving a system-wide event to earlier in the day could result in such savings, and it is a little complicated.
       The highest rates Georgia Power charges are during the summer months of July through September from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. because that is when there is peak demand. Bulloch County's highest single day of electricity use during the most expensive time of day for rates in previous years has been open house day. Once school system officials learned that one day of such high demand caused their rates to be higher for the year, they made the decision to change the open house times.
       Simply, it costs much less to cool the schools from the new 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. time for the open houses than the old 4 to 7 p.m. time for previous open houses, even with the schools being open two hours longer this year. The resulting savings could add up to about $50,000 for the school year.
       And the $50,000 savings is a small part of the effort by the school system to find ways to handle a $4 million shortfall in the 2012-13 fiscal year budget.
       The School Board last raised the millage rate in 2010, but no tax hike will be enacted this year. So, Charles Wilson, the assistant superintendent of business and finance, and who is expected to be named superintendent at the Thursday board meeting, has proposed a fairly drastic course of action to make up the shortfall.
       Wilson presented the following cost-cutting ideas to the board last month:
Implementing five furlough days for next school year, and the years to come, for all staff, saving $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.
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.
       In coming years, Wilson said the system might have to look at cutting 15 paraprofessionals in elementary schools, possibly eliminating art and music programs from elementary schools, not hiring police officers for Statesboro High and reducing some 12-month employees to 10- or 11-month schedules.
       The planned reductions still leave Bulloch with a shortfall of $1.7 million for 2013 and $900,000 for 2014. Fortunately, the school system has managed its money well over the years and currently carries a $17.8 million fund balance - reserves - which would be used to make up for the deficits. But the school system can't dip into that fund indefinitely so more ways to save and/or cut are needed.
       Wilson described a mindset he believes is needed as the system looks to function in the reality of drastically less funding:
       "Brainstorming, open-mindedness and outright willingness to implement some significant changes will have to be exercised to achieve this goal."
       We agree with his assessment.
       Moving the open houses to earlier in the day demonstrates a clear willingness to make a tough and somewhat unpopular decision that will save $50,000, and also may save funding a teacher or hiring two parapros or purchasing some badly needed equipment. Yes, it will make getting to the schools more difficult for some, but it is one step of many more to come in dealing with tough budget times in a responsible and thoughtful manner.

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