The Richmond County school system could resort to eliminating teachers, custodians and other employees to help make up a $23 million shortfall in next year’s budget.
A proposed budget presented to the Board of Education on Tuesday calls for cutting 75 teachers, 22 paraprofessionals, 30 custodians, an assistant principal, two guidance counselors and four clerical positions and reducing one nurse to part time.
Some of the 135 employees cuts would come by leaving open vacancies that were created from retirements, resignations and other attrition.
At Tuesday’s meeting, however, staffers could not estimate the number of layoffs needed to achieve the proposed $6.2 million in savings.
“Unfortunately, that’s where we had to go because that’s where the big dollars are,” said Controller Gene Spires. Salaries and benefits account for 84 percent of the system’s expenditures. “At some point there’s no way you can keep reducing the budget without affecting salaries and benefits.”
The board approved the initial 2013-14 budget with a 6-4 vote, provided it can be adjusted before adopting a final version at month’s end. Board members Jimmy Atkins, Venus Cain, Jack Padgett and Barbara Pulliam voted no.
Several board members cited the “under the gun” situation they were in after getting an initial budget less than three weeks before they must submit a balanced budget to the state, especially because employment contracts have already been awarded for next year.
Superintendent Frank Roberson said that staffers will start the budget process in September using projected data and present a proposed budget in February for discussion.
Richmond County is facing $19 million in state cuts along with a $3.3 million loss in equalization funding and a $1.8 million increase in the cost of health insurance for noncertified employees.
The financial crisis led Roberson in May to request that all principals cut 7 percent of their school budgets where they see fit. The downsizing led to teaching position cuts, a proposed $500,000 reduction in the use of substitute teachers and more than $700,000 in cuts in the use of utilities in schools.
The system will also eliminate more than $1 million in supplies and operating expenses, along with $300,000 in bus fuel. There will also be $1 million in utility cuts districtwide.
The cuts allowed the system to reduce the number of furlough days to eight from the nine implemented last year.
The proposed budget includes hiring, for $85,458, a human resources coordinator, a position eliminated two years ago; a human resources compliance officer for $61,413; and an assistant principal to be shared by two schools for $101,810.
Some board members questioned this central office expansion in light of the cuts that will affect classrooms.
Chief Human Resources Officer Norman Hill said the two new positions are necessary because his staff is overwhelmed handling new compliance requirements created by recent changes in legislation and increased employee relations responsibilities, grievances and recruitment work.
Roberson said the new positions could help prevent another costly mistake like the $250,000 the district had to pay the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia this year for allowing retirees to work more than allowed by law.
Board member Frank Dolan said he doubts that the additional manpower would have prevented the mistake, given the training already provided to the human resource staff.
Atkins questioned how hiring more staffers for human resources could prevent another problem when Roberson has never said who was to blame for the mistake in the first place.
“I know I personally asked numerous times who was responsible, who was to blame,” Atkins said, adding that he never got an answer.
Pulliam said she could not vote for the budget as it is because it includes spending $78,000 on a hiring tool from Gallup Inc. that will help human resources when hiring teachers and principals.
“As long as it’s on here, I can’t vote for this budget, and that’s all,” Pulliam said. “When you don’t have no money, you have to cut back on certain things.”
The board did not set a date for approving the final budget but has a regular board meeting set for Tuesday.