Last week’s meeting of the Bulloch County Board of Education included a preliminary discussion of the 2008 budget. All figures discussed were only tentative because Gov. Sonny Perdue has yet to sign the 2008 budget. Using the projected figures, the school system is facing a deficit of approximately $500,000. Part of this deficit comes from expected reduced federal funding by approximately $400,000.
Superintendent Dr. Jessie Strickland said, “We’re seeing a shift from federal and state funding back to local funding.”
One big financial decision facing the board is what to do about school buses. Due to budget decisions in previous years, the bus replacement schedule is behind by 19 buses. Board members are looking at options, including buying all 19 now to catch up or to buy additional buses on top of the state schedule of nine per year.
Many factors bear upon this decision. Over the last five or six years, the price of a school bus has gone from approximately $56,000 to the current $72,000 per bus, with expected estimated cost increases of 6 percent per year. The system loses $2,400 per year from the state for every bus not purchased. An aging fleet requires more maintenance. The average life of a school bus is 10 years. Beyond 10 years, the buses face major repairs like the replacement of the floor of the bus.
Board member Dr. Scott Bohlke said: “Could we look at purchasing five or six (additional buses) a year? It looks like you will put yourself in the same boat down the road if you buy all 19 at one time.”
Board member Edwin Hill also recommended that the board investigate the price of leasing.
“We will run scenarios of purchasing five, six, seven, eight and so on per year. And we will look into leasing. A few of the larger counties do lease buses. Based on the number of years we keep buses, we may lose money on leasing,” said Charles Wilson, assistant superintendent of Business and Finance.
The county owns 145 buses of which 107 are on routes. The buses not on routes are used as spares and for parts. Buses are swapped on routes to balance mileage between city and country routes. Dirt roads are also hard on buses.
The Board revisited issues of liability and insurance concerning school-sponsored trips at their May 10 meeting. Several trips were on the agenda for approval. Trips within the state of Georgia present fewer possibilities for major financial repercussions from lawsuits against the Bulloch County School System than out-of-state trips where Georgia’s sovereign immunity is not recognized by other states.
At the March meeting, board members postponed approving some school trips because of these issues. The board charged Wilson with the task of going back to the insurance advisor for prices on additional insurance for school trips.
After consulting with the Board’s insurance provider, Wilson came back with a price of $2,500 per million dollars of insurance. At the March meeting, the Board had suggested acquiring an additional $10 million for trips. Due to the cost of the insurance, Kenny Stone made a motion to postpone voting on out-of-state trips until more estimates were obtained.
Marty Waters, principal of Statesboro High, said that if the trips were not approved at this meeting, the trips would not be taken because the deadlines will pass before the next meeting. Stone’s motion died for lack of a second.
Board Vice-Chair Dr. Charles Bonds said: “We’ve got to decide whether our kids are going to participate. It seems like we’re taking the ‘Chicken Little’ stance on this. Every time we go out we take a chance, but we can’t penalize our kids.”
The liability and insurance issue is not unique to Bulloch County.
Board attorney Gerald Edenfield said, “A lot of people are grappling with this situation.”
Stone said he realized that these trips are part of the reward for the achievements of students, but he feels the taxpayers are owed protection from lawsuits.
As discussed in the March meeting, the insurance is to protect the Board from lawsuits resulting from possible damages or injuries caused by our students, staff or equipment. Insurance options will be researched further.
During the public participation portion of the meeting, Joe McGlamery, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation for Public Education, presented a resolution outlining a scholarship established in honor of Dr. Jessie Shields Strickland, who is retiring as superintendent of schools at the end of June. The “Dr. Jessie Strickland Scholarship” in the amount of $1,000 will be presented to a Bulloch County Public School senior planning to pursue Language Arts or a related field of study beginning in 2008.
“On behalf of the Foundation, I express to Jessie Shields Strickland our deep appreciation for her invaluable service to the boys and girls of Bulloch County and to our organization,” McGlamery said.
On May 24, the board announced personnel changes approved during the executive session of the May 10 Board meeting included the naming of two assistant principals. Pamela Goodman will be at Nevils Elementary, while Tim Rountree will be at Stilson Elementary.