With a softer blow expected to hit Georgia’s education funding next fiscal year, the Richmond County Board of Education is planning to eliminate five furlough days in the 2014-15 budget, restoring the full 180-day instructional calendar for the first time in at least three years.
According to the proposed budget presented Thursday, employees will still be furloughed on four non-student days to save the district about $4 million.
Compared with the nine furlough days the district implemented last year, Richmond County Technical Career Magnet School Principal Renee Kelly said the change is encouraging.
“It’s really going to help with morale of the teachers,” she said. “There’s a lot of teachers working second jobs to get by, and most importantly, it will be putting students back in the classrooms.”
The board will set dates for additional meetings to discuss the budget before it must be passed at the end of June.
Controller Gene Spires said part of the relief is due to the fact that the state restored some education funding that has been withheld since 2003.
In the state’s proposed budget passed by the Georgia General Assembly earlier this year and awaiting Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature, about $300 million was added for education to reduce the $1 billion in austerity cuts last year.
Richmond County will have $14 million withheld in state funding, and while steep, that is $6 million less than in 2013-14.
Superintendent Frank Roberson said the budget was also bolstered by savings created by principals and staffs at the school level. Last year, principals had to cut 7 percent of their school budgets, and were asked to hold the line for 2014-15. Along with cutting down on utility usage, schools saved $400,000 together by reducing their dependence on substitute teachers.
“We were able to achieve savings because of the hard work of the principals and the sacrifices they made working with their staffs,” Roberson said.
The budget also avoided a blow from previously expected increases in state health insurance. The share of health care costs districts had to pay for non-certified employees more than tripled since 2010 and was expected to rise again next year but remained at last year’s rate of $7,154 per employee.
Spires warned that the proposed budget included using $13 million of reserve funds to balance revenues and expenditures, leaving about $12 million, enough to cover about two weeks of expenses in case of emergency.
“That’s a number I’m not thrilled about, but to make this budget work, that’s what we had to do,” he said. “It’s not
the first time we got down that low.”
Board member Jack Padgett said he is still encouraged by the financial state of the district, considering where it came from.
“The extra $6 million we got from the state is going to help,” he said. “Certainly it’s not enough, but at least we didn’t lose another $5 million.”