Millions of dollars were cut from the Richmond County school system's budget Tuesday night, and the deadlock with Superintendent Charles Larke's contract continued.
The school board met behind closed doors for more than an hour as part of ongoing contract negotiations with Dr. Larke, but again adjourned with no action taken and no resolution. The board did, however, approve a tentative budget reflecting more than $4 million in cuts, with more on the way.
Controller Gene Spires told board members changes can still be made. The final budget must be approved by July 1, but not sooner than two weeks after its tentative approval.
Board member Helen Minchew said the goal of the budget cuts is to avoid raising taxes. It would take $5 million in cuts to do that.
School officials hope to consider more proposed cuts next week.
"Hopefully, in the next week or so, we'll find $1 million more," board member A.K. Hasan said.
Board members are considering a budget that would raise property taxes to the maximum allowed by law and draw $3 million from school system reserves.
School officials project that would leave about $11 million in reserves by the end of next fiscal year.
On average, it costs about $20.6 million to operate the school system for one month.
Money has been one of the issues in negotiations with the superintendent.
Mr. Hasan issued a statement last week expressing his concern that the board would approve a new contract this week with a superintendent who taxpayers would disapprove of.
"We have a consensus that will enable us to move forward in a position of strength, I think, at this time," Mr. Hasan said of contract talks, "where before I thought the thinking represented a position of weakness, so you interpret that."
He and other school officials, including the superintendent, are confident an agreement will be worked out.
Dr. Larke and board members have been trying to work out a deal for several weeks. If a new contract isn't inked by July 1, it would hit Dr. Larke financially.
His existing contract states that his annuities are contingent on receiving a satisfactory evaluation. According to the appeal he filed with board members, he received an unsatisfactory evaluation.
Dr. Larke received $55,000 in tax-deferred annuities this fiscal year and could receive about $61,000 next year.
He has said he wouldn't accept a new contract without the annuities.
When asked Tuesday whether that signals his departure July 1, he said: "We're negotiating. I'm hopeful we'll have this resolved by July 1."
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some items are being eliminated, and others are being delayed or reassigned in hopes of avoiding a tax increase. There were no layoffs in the cuts approved Tuesday. Here are the budget cuts so far:
|Athletic department secretary||$42,500|
|Public information director||$39,425|
|Public information secretary||$41,375|
|Public information office||$13,300|
|Coordinator of student information||$65,700|
|Special education interpreter||$37,547|
|Surplus transportation employee||$64,300|
|Surplus assistant principal||$100,000|
|Title I receptionist||$41,375|
|ITBS for fourth, sixth and seventh grades||$33,231|
|Four graduation specialists||$178,500|
|Central office custodians||$40,000|
|Media center books for new elementary schools||$100,000|
|Voyager (non-Reading First schools)||$250,000|
|Budgeted overtime and special events||$250,000|
|Elementary lead teacher||$1,070,000*|
* Funding moved to instructional grants
Source: Richmond County Board of Education