In covering the shortfall, the system is set to use $17 million of reserve funds, leaving just $10 million – enough to cover two weeks of operating expenses in case of an emergency.
“Unfortunately this is the new normal now that we’re dealing with,” Superintendent Frank Roberson said. “Trying to do the same or more with less. It’s going to require smart people, and it’s going to require smart behavior.”
The Richmond County Board of Education gave initial approval to the proposed budget Tuesday, with members Jimmy Atkins and Barbara Pulliam in dissent. The board will vote to formally adopt the budget at the end of June.
The cuts include 53 teaching positions, a public information officer, three assistant principals, one custodian, 60 first-grade teaching assistants phased out until 2014, two public safety officers and nine Career Technical and Agricultural Education teachers.
Controller Gene Spires said these eliminations are positions that are currently vacant from resignations, retirements and other means of attrition. About two CTAE teaching positions could be considered layoffs if the system cannot relocate them, Spires said. Part of a need for cuts comes from a $22 million decrease in state funding for 2012-13. State cuts began in 2002 as a $3 million reduction and have gradually increased over the years into the tens of millions.
“We thought it was bad when they took three and six and seven million (dollars) per year, but it’s really bad now that they’re taking $22 million,” Spires said.
The RCBOE also approved a five-student increase in class size over the state limits to make up for the budget deficit. The board voted to increase classes by three students in March but had to add to that when the budget outlook grew dimmer, Deputy Superintendent James Whitson said.
The school system also had to account for a 50 percent increase since last year in noncertified health insurance costs after the state moved to contribute less to all Georgia school districts over the next four years.
Despite the harsh cuts proposed for next year, board members said they hoped the worst part of the economic crisis would end soon.
“We keep saying next year is going to be worse, and I think next year is the bottom of the pit,” said board member Jack Padgett.