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Schools budget proposes fewer furloughs days
Charles Wilson web
Superintendent Charles Wilson

What’s Next?
    The Bulloch County Board of Education received the first draft of the fiscal 2014 budget Thursday. Here are key dates in the approval process:

May 23: Tentative board approval of fiscal 2014 budget

May 24: Advertise tentative budget in newspaper

June 13: Final adoption of budget

July 25: Final approval of property tax millage rate

July 26: Letter of millage rate approval to Bulloch County Board of Commissioners

Aug. 6: County commission approval of school system millage rate

    Bulloch County school system employees could see fewer furlough days next year.
    An early draft of the district’s fiscal 2014 budget, unveiled at the Board of Education work session Thursday evening, proposes reducing furlough days to two, compared to five in the current fiscal year.
    The three added workdays would be professional development days, costing the district $690,000 in additional salary.
    Superintendent Charles Wilson said these days are needed because there are many changes coming on which teachers need to be brought up to speed, such as the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, new teacher and administration evaluation systems and Georgia’s new accountability measure for schools, known as the College and Career Ready Performance Index.
    He added that with the long-term fiscal outlook continuing to look sluggish at best, “We’re not going to solve our budget problems on the backs of teachers and their salaries. That’s why I’m presenting this compromise here. I think those three professional development days are necessary, and we’ve kind of pushed this off thinking it would get better.”
    Other salary-related increases are seniority-related raises for noncertified staff, such as bus drivers, maintenance workers and food service employees, for a total of $445,833, and having to pick up $200,000 worth of salaries that were formerly paid from federal funds. Those federal funds have been eliminated through budget cuts known as “sequestration,” said Troy Brown, the school system’s chief financial officer.
    The district also will take the second year of a planned three-year hit from the state. Georgia is cutting $2.4 million in funding for health insurance for noncertified staff, but it’s phasing that amount in over three years. In the current fiscal year, the state cut $800,000 to Bulloch County Schools; that amount will roughly double to $1.6 million in fiscal 2014 before reaching the $2.4 million level in fiscal 2015.
    Wilson said that while the district is exploring alternative health insurance options, it can’t really afford to leave the state plan because Bulloch County’s noncertified employees are an unhealthier population than the state average, based on the number of claims filed.
    He said district officials are trying to determine if they there might be some wellness options or other programs that could be used as incentives to help these insured employees “change their behavior” so they don’t need so much medical care.
    The school system is projected to take another hit in state equalization funding — $459,216 — because the county’s property tax value has increased relative to other counties across the state. And yet another expense, a change in basic state aid to local school districts, will cost the Bulloch County system $658,963.
    “The state is saying that Bulloch County is becoming a wealthier county,” Brown said. “We may disagree with that and say, ‘Where is all this wealth?’ … That wealth is property tax wealth, so perhaps other counties have been hit harder by the downturn than what Bulloch County has.”
    Despite all of this, Wilson said, taxpayers can count on no millage rate increase in the taxes they pay to the school system.
    The fiscal 2014 budget proposal projects $71.5 million in expenses compared to just $68.2 million in revenue. But the $3.3 million difference will be paid for from the district’s fund balance, which is projected to be $20.9 million at the end of this fiscal year.
    Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.

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