ALBANY — For the past few weeks Dougherty County School System Director of Finance and Operations Ken Dyer has continually warned that coming up with a balanced FY 2014-15 budget by a June 30 state deadline would take cuts in some programs and other difficult choices.
Dyer anticipates a budget of around $122 million for the next school year, but the trouble is, as of now, the district is $8 million short of that number.
There was unbridled optimism last month when the governor returned $3.3 million of previous austerity cuts to the district. Officials quickly jumped at the opportunity to remove four staff furlough days from the system’s tentative 2014-15 school calendar.
That optimism, however was officially dashed shortly after that when the system was informed that $2.5 million of the returned austerity money would not be delivered because of equalization cuts. Dyer said he was told that the county’s tax base had grown, leaving the DCSS with a net gain of just more than $200,000 — a far cry from the original $3.3 million.
“First I’d like to say I am appreciative of the governor for giving us the $3.3 million and the state absorbing $1.4 million of additional employee health care costs. If not for that money the situation we now face would be much more difficult’” Dyer said. “But losing that $2.5 million unexpectedly was a blow to the system.”
The DCSS currently has just over $10 million in its reserve account
So, how does one reach an $8 million shortfall? Here’s how:
• State-mandated teacher step increases, $1.7 million.
• Elimination of four staff furlough days, $2 million.
• Loss of anticipated use of reserves, $2.5 million.
• Additional uses of reserves (new textbooks), $1.2 million.
• Loss of additional PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes), $900,000.
“The step increases are required by the state, that is non-negotiable,” Dyer said. “The board has made it a point to give back all four of the remaining furlough days. As you can see, there is not much wiggle room. We have to find some ways to reduce our budget.”
The lion’s share of recommending those budget cuts will fall on Superintendent Butch Mosely, who ironically is in the midst of a contract negotiation with the school board after being named permanent school chief last month.
“At first glance (looking at the budget) it frightens you to death,” Mosely said. “But if you take a close look at our programs and our people, you’ll see that we are top heavy in some areas. All in all I feel we can whittle things down without splattering a lot of blood and hurting our reserve.
“I’d like for people to look at what we are trying to do right now because it will help us in the long run,” Mosely added. “People are going to have to trust us to do the right things for the future of our school system, and I am confident we can present a balanced budget to the board.”
Mosely, Dyer and the school board will be taking hard looks looking at four particular areas for budget reduction options:
• Reduction of non-QBE (Quality Basic Education) funded programs.
Examples of such programs are the Albany Early College and PALS (Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies) in elementary and middle schools, among others.
• Reduction of non-QBE funded positions.
Mosely pointed out that the DCSS has six or seven assistant principals over the maximum funded by the state. Those salaries are currently paid out of the general fund.
• Improve efficiency in non-instructional areas.
An example is improving school bus routes through GPS to ensure shortest routes with optimum passengers.
• Improve efficiency of Master Schedules.
An example is reviewing that each teacher maximizes his or her class time with a full class load.
“I’m confident our board will make decisions that are in the best interest of the district as a whole and with what is best for our students,” Dyer said.