Schools in Richmond and Columbia counties could be facing even more state funding cuts than initially expected.
Richmond County school board member Jack Padgett confirmed Wednesday that state and local school officials notified him of the likelihood of an additional $770,000 state funding cut for next fiscal year. Columbia County school officials said their notice showed an unexpected cut of $200,000.
Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue, said Wednesday that the cuts aren't set in stone and could be offset if state revenues increase.
Because state revenues were down in April and May, Brantley said the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget recently decided to withhold 10 percent of allotment requests for state agencies for the last week in June. For the state Department of Education, that represented $14.5 million, he said.
Brantley said the state budget office decided to negate the 10 percent reduction to this year's fiscal year budget by using stimulus funds from next fiscal year. Brantley said the hope is that increased state revenue will replace the borrowed stimulus money. If that doesn't happen, cuts could occur by mid-fiscal year or sooner, he said.
"We'll probably look at the first three months of the fiscal year," Brantley said, referring to revenue returns for July, August and September.
"Hopefully, if you want to be an optimist, things will start to turn around."
Brantley said the legislature had approved a budget based on 4 percent revenue growth in the next fiscal year, but April revenues dipped 4.2 percent, or $58 million, and May figures dropped 6 percent, or $75 million.
Padgett said he had anticipated a $4.5 million mid-year cut to Richmond County schools, noting that the $770,000 cut would be in addition to that.
The school system has been working to approve a balanced budget that makes up for more than $20 million in state cuts. The latest budget, up for final approval Monday, calls for eight furlough days but no tax increases.
Padgett said he's unsure whether board members will reconsider a tax increase to the school board's cap, but he said, "I think this will get everybody's attention." Padgett initially backed going to the cap to provide a buffer, but he received no support on the board.
Going to the cap would cost the homeowner of a $125,000 home $3.12 more a month in property tax and would produce about $2 million for the system. The school board also has been told it still has the flexibility of instituting a couple more furlough days for next school year.
Board member Frank Dolan said Wednesday that he's unsure how the additional cut could be accounted for, but he's certain about one thing: "I am absolutely opposed to going to the (tax) cap."
Board member Jimmy Atkins said he's also opposed to a tax increase and is hopeful the school system's administration can find additional areas to cut other than having more furloughs or layoffs.
Board Vice President Alex Howard said he needed time to analyze the situation before saying how the system should respond.
As for Columbia County, officials said Wednesday they would make up the potential cut from the system's $26 million reserve fund. The school board approved this month a $169 million budget. That's about $6 million less than last year, though the system grew by more than 500 students.