Perdue's cuts cost schools millions

The Richmond County school system has been dealt another multimillion-dollar blow, complicating an already precarious financial situation.

Eight days ago, the school board raised property taxes as high as it legally could, the final step in balancing its budget and offsetting a $13.4 million shortfall. And now the board finds itself dealing with another shortfall brought on by a worsening state economy.

On Friday, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced plans to withhold 6 percent of state funding for all agencies, 5 percent from Medicaid and 2 percent from K-12 school systems to avoid a special session of the General Assembly.

The governor's plan will defer $1.6 billion in total spending. About $3.3 million will be withheld from Richmond County schools, said Gene Spires, the school system's controller.

On Monday, Mr. Spires couldn't say specifically how the school system would handle the cut.

"Since the situation we're in is already severe, it's not going to be good," Mr. Spires said.

To offset the $13.4 million shortfall, the school board raised property taxes, dug deep into its financial reserves and slashed its budget, including the elimination of most out-of-town travel.

The board also eliminated 17 unfilled teaching positions, counting on enrollment to decline. The positions were added to the budget to ensure that all classrooms adhered to the state's class size mandates. Richmond County received waivers to exceed the class limits for a year but was warned that waivers likely would not be granted if requested again this school year.

Columbia County's cut is $2.1 million, Controller Pat Sullivan said in an e-mail, but she didn't know what the reduction will mean for the school system.

"It is too early to say how we would adjust our budget until we get specifics from (the governor's) office," she said.

The 2 percent state cut eliminates money legislators gave school systems above what Mr. Perdue had requested, Bert Brantley, the governor's press secretary, said Monday.

"Even with the 2 percent being reduced, it's still more (funding) than it was in (fiscal) '08," he said.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

THE IMPACT:

Reducing state funding by 2 percent represents millions of dollars in reductions for local school systems.

Richmond County: $3.3 million

COLUMBIA COUNTY: $2.1 million

Sources: Richmond County and Columbia County school systems