A grim economic reality means the Richmond County school system will continue operating under a mantra of doing more with less money.
Representatives of state Superintendent John Barge told the Richmond County Board of Education and a room full of school administrators Monday that creative measures in the classroom are needed to compensate for reduced state funding.
Barge was scheduled to be at the meeting but could not attend because of illness. Chief Academic Officer Mike Buck and Chief Financial Officer Scott Austensen spoke in his place.
“(Teachers) are having to do more and more and more with less and less and less,” Buck said.
Two-thirds of state schools are operating schedules of fewer than 180 days, Buck said.
The meeting was arranged by state Rep. Wayne Howard and the local legislative delegation to address economic issues facing the school system.
Austensen said there are three primary areas of concern: a $1.1 billion austerity fund; a large decline in the tax digest; and rising health care costs for noncertified employees, who include bus drivers, lunchroom workers and secretaries, but not teachers.
“Unless the state finds revenue or unless the General Assembly is able to accomplish some sort of revenue increase, I doubt the state will be able to find more money,” Austensen said.
Richmond County schools Controller Gene Spires said the system has a $22 million austerity fund. That number was even higher in budgets of the past four years, he said.
“The message (today) was don’t expect any more revenue than we’ve been getting,” said Spires, who wasn’t surprised by the news.
Accelerating health care costs are hitting school systems directly, Austensen said. By 2015, health care costs for noncertified employees will be up $500 million from 2008.
Richmond County board member Jack Padgett said the system could be paying $3.45 million more – equivalent to 49 teaching positions.
Richmond County Superintendent Frank Roberson said that even with the funding concerns, the system cannot waste time neglecting achievement.
“In these days and times, with these economic challenges, doing the same or doing more with less is the new normal,” he said. “We can’t afford to do the same and keep up, so we are having to do more with less.”