Ten percent cuts part of shortfall solution

Richmond County school officials won't be among those dreaming of a white Christmas.

Actually, they are banking on a rather mild winter and crossing their fingers for other financial good fortunes, according to documents obtained by The Augusta Chronicle through the Georgia Open Records Act.

The documents detail the 10 percent budget cuts approved in October by the school board - sight unseen. Not only have they not been made public, but school board members say they, too, remain unaware of the details of the cuts.

They say they had little choice but to blindly approve them after it was discovered at the October meeting that the school system was headed toward a $2.5 million shortfall.

The quickest way to slash the budget was to cut heating expenses in the natural gas accounts - more than a third of the departmental cuts.

Last year, the natural gas account had money left over thanks to a mild winter. The assumption is that this winter will be mild, too.

"When you're making cuts, you have to do it based on assumptions," Controller Gene Spires said.

For now at least, school officials are right about the weather, said Al Moore, a meteorological technician for the National Weather Service in West Columbia, S.C. Current 90-day forecasts call for a higher chance of a milder winter than a colder one, although he acknowledged that even 30-day forecasts have been wrong.

"Those outlooks aren't fail-safe," Mr. Moore said. "It's all based on probability."

That's not the only bet school officials are hedging. For instance, fingers are crossed that emergencies are kept to a minimum.

Benton Starks, the director of maintenance and facilities, said the thefts of copper stolen from eight air-conditioning units in December cost $16,000, and an October vandalism spree at Butler High School cost up to $50,000.

Before releasing the records, Superintendent Dana Bedden cautioned that budgetary figures are constantly being adjusted as conditions change.

None of the cuts affected salaries or resulted in layoffs.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

THE FULL STORY

Get the full story on the Richmond County school budget cuts:

Official says obstacles can be overcome

Budget cuts:

By Department (Amount of cuts and impact)

By School (Amount of cuts, impact and principal reaction)