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Richmond County school board asks lawmakers for help with district's financial needs

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In a conversation over bacon, eggs and coffee, Richmond County Board of Education officials urged legislators Tuesday morning to help the school district meet its financial needs.

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Acting Superintendent James Whitson speaks during the Richmond County Board of Education's annual legislative breakfast. Whitson stressed the shortfall of state funding for the pre-kindergarten program and the increased cost of non-certified employee health insurance.  CHRIS THELEN/STAFF
Acting Superintendent James Whitson speaks during the Richmond County Board of Education's annual legislative breakfast. Whitson stressed the shortfall of state funding for the pre-kindergarten program and the increased cost of non-certified employee health insurance.

Six local legislators met with 10 school board officials at Pine Hill Middle School for breakfast to hear the system’s concerns and priorities for the 2012 legislative session.

Instead of making a wish list of needs to hand to the lawmakers, Acting Superintendent James Whitson highlighted two major financial issues burdening the district. He stressed the shortfall of state funding for the pre-kindergarten program and the increased cost of non-certified employee health insurance.

During about an hour of conversation, the breakfast was official but casual.

Speakers took turns behind a lectern in the classroom turned dining hall.

When questions popped up, board members and legislators addressed one another by first names.

School board member Jack Padgett, one of three board members at the breakfast, said he would have liked a better turnout of board members but appreciated the open conversation.

If they can’t meet all the system’s needs, Whitson asked the legislators to at least do what they can to prevent more state funding cuts to the district.

To paint the picture, Whitson described how the system uses $16 million more in expenditures than it takes in as revenue. Reserve funds have also dwindled to $24 million, even though it takes $22 million to cover one month of operations in the district.

“Do what you can to minimize what is happening to us right now,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges comes from the pre-k program, which is facing a $143,000 shortfall because of an under enrollment of children.

Because the state pays $3,000 per pre-k pupil, the system is suffering with 47 pupils below capacity. Even without that funding for full classes, the system still has to pay a full staff of teachers’ salaries and utilities.

“We are forced to close some of our centers before the school year is out because we cant afford it,” Whitson said. “That’s how dire the situation is.”

School officials also asked the lawmakers to intervene in the proposed cost increases for non-certified employee health insurance. The system is facing a $2 million cost increase for the 1,338 non-certified employees in fiscal year 2013.

The increase would require $10 million from the reserve fund to cover the costs unless legislators can intervene.

“We simply can’t, we can’t do that,” Whitson said. “We don’t have the revenue, and the economy is not turning around fast enough for us to do that.”

Other priorities for the school system discussed during breakfast are in line with items proposed by the Georgia School Boards Association including: a revised state tax policy to address erosion of state revenue through sales and other tax exemptions, protecting local boards’ authority over funding use and managing constitutional authority of school boards.

As far as the plea for assistance with financial issues, state Rep. Quincy Murphy said budgets are tight and progress will be difficult.

Murphy was one of four legislators present, along with Rep. Henry “Wayne” Howard, Rep. Gloria Frazier and state Sen. Jessie Stone. Field representatives were present for U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and U.S. Rep. John Barrow.

“This is going to be a major challenge,” Murphy said. “Funding from the lottery is not where we can support growth in Georgia. But education is still number one.”

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Craig Spinks
Craig Spinks 11/29/11 - 07:49 pm
The RCBOE should take money

The RCBOE should take money to resolve its $143K pre-K shortfall out of the hundreds of thousands of dollars the board pays its effete, ineffective and overly-compensated attorney.

Chillen 11/29/11 - 08:28 pm
Pre-K does not need to be

Pre-K does not need to be offered. Cancel the program. It is causing the school systems to have financial problems and it is causing the Hope College Scholarship program to have financial problems.

Let parents baby sit their own 4 year olds or send them to a private school like the rest of us did. Geeze.

showboat 11/29/11 - 08:39 pm
Chillen, this is a wonderful

Chillen, this is a wonderful for our kids, why cut it?

maryskac 11/30/11 - 12:51 pm
I'd have to disagree with you

I'd have to disagree with you on that, Chillen (though I couldn't decide if you were being sarcastic or not!). The pre-k program is targeted at low income households to help bridge the achievement gap for lower socioeconomic kids who come into school in kindergarten with lower than average abilities. When they start kindergarten behind, statistically they are less likely to do as well or even graduate from high school. A situation that ultimately is detrimental to the entire community. These parents are often both working to get by (or a single parent) and therefore staying home is out of the question, as is paying the cost of private school.

socks99 11/30/11 - 04:54 pm
Richmond County, Clarke

Richmond County, Clarke County, etc. ... all over Georgia one can imagine hearing from earnest and honorable school boards requesting 'bail-outs' from the state. One wonders what the school board members THOUGHT their jobs were, if not to make sure expenses did not exceed incomes? Ah! Now they can say that it was really state cutbacks a la 'The Great Recession' that sent them over the brink!

Can't they at least admit that they FAILED to adequately administer the fiscal resources of the school system? (Why do they insist it is someone else's fault?) And since they can't keep the schools on a safe and sustainable footing, shouldn't the public conclude that they are unfit to lead the schools?!

We want to help you guys!

But only AFTER you agree to resign, and promise never to fun for public office again!!!!

sassylassie 11/30/11 - 10:19 pm
Perhaps if some of the upper

Perhaps if some of the upper crust at the palace on Broad were cut, and their hefty salaries, the budget shortfalls could be met. Not to mention the funds they pay to the attorney. I think if the public would really take a look at what some of those individuals were paid, there would be a protest march on Broad. Absurd salaries for people who do nothing but hang around the coffee machine and push paper.
And until change is made on the board itself, everything will stay the same. Some of the board members do favors for friends and frat brothers/sorority sisters in the system, refusing to rid the county of ineffective administrators and "directors." The taxpayers really should attend the board meetings and see for themselves how ineffective the system really is. Eyeopening to say the least.

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