Six to eight furlough days, 35 teacher cuts through attrition and perhaps a small tax increase.
Those were options presented to the Richmond County school board Monday as ways to balance a school budget for next fiscal year, which faces a $16.7 million revenue shortfall as state funding continues to dwindle.
The first option spelled out by Superintendent Dana Bedden on Monday was to consider eight furlough days next school year, to cut about $1 million in costs other than salaries and benefits and to eliminate 35 teaching positions.
"We're hoping to do that (the teacher cuts) through attrition," Bedden told the board, referring to those who will retire after this school year.
His second option would be to have six furlough days for workers, reduce the same number of teachers through attrition, have the $1 million in other cuts and set the school board's portion of property taxes at the cap, which would raise that rate by nearly two mills, or about $27 more a year on a $100,000 house, school officials said.
Going to the tax cap would produce an extra $2.1 million for the school district. Bedden told the board that doing so would provide them a buffer should more state cuts come midyear.
"I'd be surprised if the state doesn't come back around and hit you midyear," he said.
Bedden also presented an option that would have three instead of eight "change in work schedule days" for bus drivers, bus monitors and paraprofessionals, noting that they are among the lowest-paid employees and "could not get equal time consideration during last year's change in work schedule." Such a change, he said, would cost the district about $265,000.
After the meeting, board member Jack Padgett said he's anticipating about $2 million more in state cuts midyear. Based on the latest budget passed by the legislature last week, the district is eyeing about $17 million in state cuts for next school year.
Padgett said he would prefer an approach that combines the two options presented Monday: going to the tax cap and having eight furlough days that could be reduced to six if conditions improve.
Whether next year's school calendar in Richmond County has six or eight furlough days, one thing is certain: The traditional 180-day school calendar will be reduced to 177 because three of the furlough days would be on normal instructional days. The rest of the furloughs would involve professional learning days.
"We put in a waiver (with the state) to convert to hours," Bedden said of a state law that allows fewer than the required 180 school days if the system meets the equivalent in hours.
Under the option for eight furlough days, classes would be out next school year on Aug. 3; Oct. 20; Nov. 22 and 23, thereby extending the Thanksgiving break to a full week; Feb. 21 and 22; March 16; and May 25. With six furlough days, workers would not be off on March 16 and May 25.
School board members took no action but said they would further consider the options at 5 p.m. on May 18.
Board member Frank Dolan told the staff he appreciated their getting a balanced budget to the board early.
"These things are hard," he said. "There's a lot of hand-wringing. There's no good answer in these tough times."