School leader talks financial strain

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Desperate for relief, Richmond County school leaders met with state legislators Tuesday morning and outlined the "perfect storm" pinching education finances.

Class-size reductions; unfunded, mandated pay raises; property tax exemptions; a millage cap lower than most; declining enrollment; a dwindling tax base; and increasing poverty are among the elements hitting the school system hard, Superintendent Dana Bedden said.

"It's like a perfect storm coming home now," he said. "We're getting to the point where we're going to probably have to lay people off if we keep going the way we're going."

Among the issues are:

- Declining enrollment: The loss of about 500 pupils cost $2.5 million last fiscal year, yet more teachers were needed to meet class-size mandates.

- Class size: Richmond County has been told by the state not to request any more class-size waivers. Exceeding the class-size limit by just one pupil requires a new class and the hiring of a new teacher. On average, a teacher's salary and benefits cost $69,180.

- Senior citizen exemptions: Exempting anyone 65 and older from paying any property tax shifts the burden to other property owners. The exemption doesn't erase the need for tax revenue. Richmond County's millage is at the cap, which is lower than that of most other school systems in Georgia.

- Financial reserves: Reserves helped balance this year's budget, but the reserves equal less than a month's operating expenses. It's recommended that two months' expenses be held in reserve.

- Vacant property: It is looking less likely that the sale of vacant property will generate the $1.5 million needed to balance the current budget.

- Economics: About 21 percent of Richmond County is living in poverty, much higher than neighboring Columbia County, and the median household income is much lower than the state average. Low-income families generate less tax revenue.

- More cuts: Gov. Sonny Perdue is withholding 2 percent from K-12 education and $428 million from the Homestead Tax Relief Grant. If the money isn't released, it will cost Richmond County $7 million.

If Richmond County absorbs all of Mr. Perdue's cuts, it will leave the school system with only a week's operating expenses in reserves. As it is, if a storm were to strike the county and close the school system temporarily, there wouldn't be enough money to pay employees, Dr. Bedden said.

"Basically, our people would not get a paycheck," he said. "So, we just killed the economy in this area because our district is just under 5,000 employees. If you put 5,000 people in this area out of work, you just killed Richmond County."

Though no decisions were made Tuesday, Richmond County delegation Chairman Quincy Murphy suggested the General Assembly consider easing class-size mandates and requirements that school systems spend 65 percent of their budget directly in the classroom.

Dr. Bedden also pushed for more cooperation among school leaders and legislators, businesses and the community, in addition to other counties.

"I think we need to stop having county line barriers," he said.

Richmond and Columbia counties should work together to recruit businesses, he said, emphasizing the dependence Columbia County has on Richmond County based on the numbers of commuters who make the drive each day.

"Richmond County disappears; this whole region will implode," Dr. Bedden said.

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

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wcr250
71
Points
wcr250 09/17/08 - 03:29 am
0
0
Close these schools and issue

Close these schools and issue vouchers to private school. Private school is cheaper and the education is better.Also we wouldn't have to put up with the bad students.

patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 09/17/08 - 03:40 am
0
0
Richmond County has spent

Richmond County has spent decades investing in government subsidy programs and not worrying about the operation of the school system. (The Larke era and the mess it precipitated will be an ongoing nightmare for some years) Now with the uneducated worker base, Augusta isn't looked upon as a good location for most manufacturing firms and the poverty rate continues to climb as a result. We are reaping what we have sown. The current turnaround process isn't going to happen over night. There are tough years ahead to straighten out the mess created in this county. The community needs to get behind Copenhaver and Bedden (both good men) and stay with them for the long haul.

paulwietherspoons
0
Points
paulwietherspoons 09/17/08 - 06:07 am
0
0
Yes pt, and copen, bedden,

Yes pt, and copen, bedden, and the school board need to get behind the citizens; cut where cuts are needed, sell unused property, clean out the do nothing overhead, and lay off if necessary. Past time to quit robbing peter to pay paul.

raptcontemplation
4
Points
raptcontemplation 09/17/08 - 06:35 am
0
0
Like most public school

Like most public school systems, this one is top heavy. Pare it down and put that money back in to the system where it can work for the children.

DeborahElliott2
4
Points
DeborahElliott2 09/17/08 - 06:44 am
0
0
RC needs to look closer at

RC needs to look closer at how they bus students. Did you know that only one person rides a bus from one school to another for the gifted program? How come when gifted programs should be on the same days now since the increase on gas and lower class sizes are issues? Since this is an economic problem that RC tried to dodge and it is catching up to them, how about decreasing the school days to half days and handing out more homework so students can keep up at home. Parents can help with homework issues, and we just have to count on reduction until this economy picks up again (but we all know and should know by now, it will take till next year for it to do that). If nothing else, how about adding a homeschool program to the public education so kids can keep up their studies online. You DO have one, called Ga Academics Program which is public education online. How about combining those?

godogs
0
Points
godogs 09/17/08 - 07:19 am
0
0
First they are going to have

First they are going to have to quit relying on the home owners to totally fund these operations. Most of the home owners anymore are retired folks who aren't starting a new family with children who will move to Col. Co. or Aiken Co for better services and schools. They are on fixed incomes and contribute less to the tax base but should'nt have to live their last years saving the poverty and welfare who chose not to get an education and better job in order to contribute to the tax base. Parents who are on welfare and don't work should be made to contribute time to the schools and maybe that would help with some costs. If that means janitoral duties then that is what it means. If it means not hiring an assitant teacher in some of the lower grades, a parent on welfare should have to volunteer their time. They need to be made to give back to soceity for what they are getting free. How can a parent look a child in the eye and say you are not worthy of my time to devote to your education. I don't care if you have better than me because the system will take care of you. It is time for parents to step up to the plate and get involved and say we do care. Save your own system and quit relying on the gov't to do it.

abc123xyz
0
Points
abc123xyz 09/17/08 - 08:05 am
0
0
Yes, the system is top-heavy

Yes, the system is top-heavy & when it comes to lay offs, those won't be the ones that go. They will remain in their high paying positions until retirement. They will lay off the custodians, clerical staff & teaching assistants (just to name a few). These are the lowest paid personnel but they will be what goes. They can lay off more of them & think it sounds better to the public - they could lay off one or two of the top administrators & save more money than laying off 20 lower paid personnel.

lifelongresidient
0
Points
lifelongresidient 09/17/08 - 09:14 am
0
0
well you could start by

well you could start by suspending all sports programs..how much money would that save??, quite a bit i am sure...but that's not possible because it's "for the children", sports brings very little to the table in terms of academics, that's why it's called "extra curricular", or outside of the education process. rich cnty is in a crisis, except for a few exceptions the students can't read, write or understand what they are reading, the school system currently is running 14-17 million in debt and will be the same or worse next year. the mill rate is maxed and state approval will be needed for any further increases, declining enrollment and shrinking tax base. too many schools, yes this is a perfect storm and drastic action is needed to avert financial collapse of the entire school system. but "for the children" everything will continue with every effort made to keep the status quo going for fear of losing power and influence on the school board, for the sake of the almighty god..FOOTBALL. this translates into poor test scores continued declining enrollment and continued deterioration of the educational system in rich cnty..there's money to be made in having "dumb students"

iletuknow
8
Points
iletuknow 09/17/08 - 09:14 am
0
0
Same old story from pseudo

Same old story from pseudo educators.

142
Points
Dan White 09/17/08 - 09:25 am
0
0
Beden can start cutting the

Beden can start cutting the budget by getting rid of the teacher coaches. Can you believe this? Teachers have at least 4 years of college and a semester of student teaching under the tutelege of a classroom teacher plus a professor and the teacher must past muster from both of them. Then, the state licenses those who meet state requirements saying they are competent to be placed in the classroom. What are the principal and assistant principal supposed to do? You got it! They are supposed to monitor, mentor, and evaluate their faculty and for the weaker teachers, they are supposed to design a plan to make them strong in their deficiencies.and overcome them. The teacher coach, a certified teacher making on average $64,000 a year plus benefits is a waste of tax-payer money.

142
Points
Dan White 09/17/08 - 09:29 am
0
0
Sports programs are

Sports programs are irrelevant to the budget except for the para-medics posted at football games. The state of GA does not allow any taxpayer money to be used to support sports. All money must be raised through gate receipts, concessions, and fund raisers. The only exception is the building of stadiums which came through SPLOST. The other exception is the coach's supplement. Even the referrees and umpires are paid out of the athletic budget from money from gate receipts.

godogs
0
Points
godogs 09/17/08 - 09:38 am
0
0
Then SPLOST needs to be

Then SPLOST needs to be redirected to education not sports. You have to give to get a little if you want it bad enough. You either want sports or eduation, you can't have them both. Just like my shopping list, I can have a candy bar or I can have bread to feed the whole family nutrition.

142
Points
Dan White 09/17/08 - 09:49 am
0
0
I agree life. Money is too

I agree life. Money is too tight to not have the priorities on education. However, every school in Richmond has a stadium now. This is going to make it almost impossible to close one of the high schools that the high price consulting firm said needed to be closed to cut back on the budget. Another waste of our money - hiring the consultant firm and not having the gonads to follow through on their recommendations!

bebbe
1
Points
bebbe 09/17/08 - 04:09 pm
0
0
RC is already trying to

RC is already trying to outsource the custodians ( to be people who work at night) so RC doesn't have to pay for the benefits. We no longer have special education as the kids are all included and only the most profound get any significant help. The rest are just promoted to the next grade. How much moola was shelled out just a few weeks ago for the high priced speaker that came to Augusta to "rev" up the teachers about how grerat it is to teach in RC.

msmoh2
6
Points
msmoh2 09/17/08 - 06:47 pm
1
0
If Bedden is so concerned,

If Bedden is so concerned, why doesn't he give the county back the raise they gave him...

luckie
2
Points
luckie 09/17/08 - 08:33 pm
0
0
I say there is alot of work

I say there is alot of work to be done. Work is not getting done because there are too many chiefs and not enough indians. I could say soooooo much but plead the fifth.

happy
0
Points
happy 09/17/08 - 08:58 pm
0
0
We don't even have soap in

We don't even have soap in our school. I guess money really is tight.

TheTruth
1
Points
TheTruth 09/17/08 - 09:16 pm
0
0
More money needs to be spent

More money needs to be spent on education instead of stupid, needless wars. But how else can you keep the poor man down?

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