Tentative school budget presented

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- Dougherty County School System officials announced that they have whittled down the system's Fiscal year 2011 spending plan so that it is now $13,318 from being balanced.

At Tuesday morning's Board of Education's Finance Committee meeting at the Administration Building, school system Executive Director of Operations and Business Services Robert Lloyd and Budget Coordinator Susan Hatcher presented the latest tentative FY 2011 budget to the committee, which comprises board Chair David Maschke and board members Anita Williams-Brown and James Bush. At the last Finance Committee meeting on May 26, the imbalance was $613,473, 12 days after Lloyd told the committee it was looking at a possible $6.2 million shortfall.

Later when Maschke, who also chairs the Finance Committee, presented his additional ideas for savings, Bush accused him of grandstanding and complained that he did not get a copy in advance of the meeting.

The Dougherty County School System will have two public hearings today for consideration of the proposed 2010-11 system budget in the board room of the central Administration Building, located at 200 Pine Ave. The first hearing will be held at noon and the second at 6 p.m.

Lloyd said at the meeting that state transportation funding for the projected FY 2011 budget has been reduced by $17,809. However, he did note that the Board of Community Health has approved an increase in FY 2011 employer contribution rates to 21.955 percent. The old rate was 18.534 percent. The non-certified rate will remain the same, $162.72 per month and $1,952.64 yearly.

Lloyd also provided to the Finance Committee and new Superintendent Joshua Murfree with measures that were designed to eliminate the shortfall. One was to reduce by 25 percent the local supplement added to certified personnel's state-mandated salary. Another new measure was to reduce by 25 percent the step increase that was added back in the FY 2011 budget for applicable classified staff.

Lloyd also said that the school system was able to reduce six more positions for a total of 30.

"Can we have a list of those?" Board Chair and Finance Committee Chair Maschke asked Lloyd. "I'd just like to know what those are."

Lloyd said that he would provide a list detailing the eliminated positions by June 23 board meeting.

Other measures that were mentioned at the May 26 meeting would remain in the spending plan. Two of these were reducing the instructional days for students from 180 to 177 and implementing a 10-day (unpaid) reduction in the work schedule for employees, which doesn't affect Extended Day, child nutrition, bus drivers and part-time custodians.

Maschke later told Lloyd that he was frustrated that the Finance Committee wasn't more of an active participant in the proposed budget process.

"I continue to note with frustration that I watch through the media the (Dougherty) County (Commission) continues to meet every day line by line (about the budget process)," he said. "We're getting there, but it'd be nice to be more there during the cuts rather than presented with 30 cuts. This is just an ongoing frustration with me."

Bush served on the County Commission before being elected to the School Board in 2004.

"I do believe that was a better, informed way and the more informed you are, the better decision you make," he said. "I know things are different with the school system with everything coming down from Atlanta."

"I'd like to have a better comfort level," Maschke said. "They're explaining why and how."

Murfree said the school system could look into doing something similar to the Dougherty County Commission's decision-making budget process in the future.

"We can try to build a plan that isn't theirs, but is ours so they're not ... just hearing about it in the media. We'll put that all into consideration," said Murfree, who attended last weekend's Georgia School Boards Association Summer Conference and Delegate Assembly in Savannah with board members Bush, Williams-Brown, Velvet Riggins, Michael Windom and Milton Griffin. Murfree is also scheduled to be out of town two days next week for training and is out starting today to attend the 24th annual 100 Black Men of America Conference that runs through Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Maschke then distributed copies of his "Possibilities for Budget Savings." These were:

1. Cut Board member monthly compensation by 20 percent ($250/mo to $200/mo) and Board Chairman compensation 33 percent ($300/mo to $200/mo). Cut $4,200

2. Cut Board member travel/expense allowance by 50 percent ($3,500/yr to $1,750). Cut: $12,250

3. Reverse administration recommendation and approval of paid unearned leave for all 12-month employees. Improve efficiency. Estimated Savings: 8,000 hours @ $25/hr = $200,000.

4. Eliminate "back door" pay raises provided by extra contract days and benefits added to contracts (without Board approval). Estimated Cut: $50,000

5. Eliminate phased subsidy reduction plan and $8,000 cap and immediately pay only uninflated subsidies. Estimated Cut: $50,000

6. Pay personnel according to job responsibilities and performance. ...

7. Travel Policies and approval process must be re-worked. Hold supervisors that approve trips that are wasteful or conducted to "spend funds because we have to" accountable. ...

8. Eliminate expenditure of school funds on custom cards, holiday cards and mailings, personalized stationary, flowers, gifts and other non-school related functions. Apply funds to actual individual school needs.

9. Redesign annual employee evaluation process and require employee files to be accurate, complete and representative of facts. Substantiate employee work records.

After Maschke finished reading from his handout, Bush accused Maschke of grandstanding. "I'd like to get this before the media does; we just talked about this," Bush said.

"Well, we're in a Finance Committee meeting and that's what we're here to discuss," Maschke said.

Bush later said that he supported Maschke's idea of the School Board's cuts and added that board members shouldn't be able to use school funds for research.

After the meeting, Maschke said he wasn't surprised by the cool reception his cost-saving ideas received at the meeting.

"I think it's a board member's responsibility to participate in the process," he said. "It's no surprise to any board members or staff that I offer viable, workable, cost-saving ideas each year. Sometimes some of them are given serious consideration and sometimes some of them are ignored."

Maschke also questioned Bush's suggestion to receive his handout before the meeting.

"Last year, Mr. Bush and I were both on the Finance Committee and we followed the exact same format for the presentation of budget suggestions," he said. "Now, this year, he's requested to receive budget suggestions in advance, but he's also directed that he not be sent any e-mails or communications that are subject to press Open Records requests. With that being the case, you can't send it to him in advance and can't respond to his request. It makes no sense."

When approached on North Washington Street by a Herald reporter for a comment after the meeting, Bush refused to respond.