Bedden braces for financial woes

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The Richmond County school board is a long way from talking about its budget for next fiscal year, but it is already starting off millions of dollars in the hole.

Richmond County Schools Superintendent Dana Bedden is concerned that budget cuts may jeopardize educational gains made this year.  Chris Thelen/Staff
Chris Thelen/Staff
Richmond County Schools Superintendent Dana Bedden is concerned that budget cuts may jeopardize educational gains made this year.

The board relied on one-time fixes, among other measures, to prop up its budget and offset a $13.4 million shortfall this fiscal year, actions it took to avoid layoffs and pay cuts.

Those actions patched the hole in the budget, but it set the board up for another rough year financially in 2009.

Richmond County Superintendent Dana Bedden said Tuesday that senior staff members were told in their last meeting before the holiday break to prepare two budgets: one assuming no additional funding and one assuming more cuts.

Cuts, though, might be likely.

To balance this year's budget, the board pulled $7.4 million out of its reserves, and it is trying to sell surplus properties to raise another $1.5 million.

But those one-time fixes mean the board will start its budget process with an $8.9 million shortfall if everything else remains unchanged.

This doesn't reflect $3.3 million withheld from the current budget by Gov. Sonny Perdue because of the state's budget woes.

It also doesn't reflect $3 million withheld by the governor from Homestead Tax Relief Grants.

On top of this, Richmond County enrollment dropped by 210 students this year, which means less state funding. The previous year, enrollment fell by 485 students, resulting in a loss of about $2.3 million in state funds.

Dr. Bedden said he and his staff are continuing to look for ways to ensure that the school system is running efficiently, including "rightsizing," the process of determining the best use of facilities.

Rightsizing, however, isn't a quick solution, he said. It's a process conducted in phases and implemented over years. The first phase calls for the closing of the Bungalow Road school and moving its alternative education programs to Tubman Middle School.

Financial pressure could force the board to speed up the process, Dr. Bedden said. A faster process could produce more immediate savings, but they would come at the expense of a process designed to be inclusive and data-driven.

Dr. Bedden is also looking for programs to trim, although personnel accounts for most of the budget.

"You talk about programs and services, but eventually you get to people," the superintendent said.

Finances could affect class sizes, he said. The board will be requesting class size waivers for 15 elementary classes during its January business meeting.

"That may be where we try to close the budgetary gap," Dr. Bedden said.

School officials have been working with members of the local legislative delegation to address funding problems.

State Rep. Quincy Murphy, chairman of the delegation, said he will push the General Assembly for flexibility in class-size restrictions.

"Hopefully, we can give them some relief in this area," he said.

But Mr. Murphy will also consider ways to reinstate the Homestead Tax Relief Grants.

The board made academic gains in 2008 and scored some successes, Dr. Bedden said, but funding issues could jeopardize this progress.

"If you keep going backward in funding, how do you sustain this?" he asked, comparing the gains and cuts to a yo-yo.

He wants to create special academies within schools, including a fine arts academy and a public safety academy, and also add more Advanced Placement courses, but the funding might not be there.

"Education costs," Dr. Bedden said.

But, he added, it costs more to incarcerate than it does to educate.

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

ABOUT THE SERIES

This story is the first in a series about what's ahead in the new year.

THURSDAY: Richmond County schools

FRIDAY: Savannah River Site

SATURDAY: Traffic

SUNDAY: Thurmond Lake -- drought

MONDAY: City government

Comments (8) Add comment
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FedupwithAUG
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FedupwithAUG 01/01/09 - 02:43 am
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Close some schools down! then

Close some schools down! then sell the property. Also start taxing chuches!

raptcontemplation
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raptcontemplation 01/01/09 - 08:31 am
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Like all public school

Like all public school systems - too much fat on the top. Start trimming there.

ZenoElia
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ZenoElia 01/01/09 - 10:31 am
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Fire the governor and get

Fire the governor and get someone who cares about education to run this state.

disssman
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disssman 01/01/09 - 11:02 am
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I know what we need to do.

I know what we need to do. First lets discover a new way to teach using a simple set of school books that we don't change every year. Next, if we don't have the funding then stop the sports programs and use what we have for EDUCATION. Next, if we have to make personnel changes get rid of the social directors and other non-EDUCATIONAL positions first ( like Beddens spokeswoman) but, do not take it out of maintenance. Then stop all the programs during the summer like serving breakfast and lunch for kids ( who arrive at the school in their birth persons boom box rust rockets with thousands of dollars in wheels), alternatively he could require mama's to volunteer if they want their kids fed for free. Note I didn't say they arrived in daddy's rust rocket, because mama dosen't know who he may be. In conclusion, Bedden is doing a substandard job and should be eleminated immediately. But then I guess that action would cost us a half million at least.

ETROOP
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ETROOP 01/01/09 - 11:38 am
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I have a suggestion first off

I have a suggestion first off let's get rid of all the asst. super's that right there is a cost savings of OVER $600,000.00, then cut back on Bedden's salary and pay him for the same district size as other's get paid that's a cost savings of $300,000.00, stop paying all the board members that's another way we save. Next get rid of the teachers that are violent and non-productive, and not qualified, sell all of the used books and equipment, get rid of the extra's we are paying for such as lights on in the palace when only ONE PERSON is even working, stop the internet service that the board members have that we the tax payers pay for. THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO FIX THIS BUT WE HAVE A SUPERINTENDANT THAT CAME FROM A STATE THAT WAS ONLY TO HAPPY TO GET RID OF HIM. He wanted the tough job NOW he needs to do the tough job. Get rid of the waste.

Craig Spinks
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Craig Spinks 01/01/09 - 12:18 pm
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Is it true that Dr. Bedden

Is it true that Dr. Bedden inherited an employee population of 5K in a public school system with a pupil population of about 33K?

AugustaHeph homeowner
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AugustaHeph homeowner 01/01/09 - 01:24 pm
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First of all, we need to sit

First of all, we need to sit back and look at who is playing and who is working,. The workload for some will be very heavy and others will be playing cards or shopping or setting up trips for themselves and all the sistas'. There are all kind of things these people could help others do, but because youare not in your click or they don't like someone in that dept. they willl not offer to help, and the sad part-The higher ups in the schools and you know who I am talking about, see it and turn a blind eye and even ask them to go pick up food, go to the bank and lo and behold when they go to do these things-they play lottery on school time, yep that is what they do and discuss numbers for that day-make me sick.. Yep cut where cuts need to be, and let the ones that are really working know what a good job they do . Dr. Bedden came in a bad situation, teachers have no control over their class=kids on desk, kids playing cards, they are so loud when you call a room you hear all of them talking laughing at once. This is uncalled for. It shows No RESPECT in my book. But then you also have employees who do not respect each other either, so there you go, the just of the situation. Good Day

jack
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jack 01/01/09 - 02:29 pm
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Amazing how lgnorant some of

Amazing how lgnorant some of the people are on these boards. You have no clue as to the problems Dr Bedden faces daily, the problems he inherited from years of Larke's incompetence and nepotism. A major step in the right direction is to elect members to the school bard that have a clue about education. I agree that underpopulated schools should be closed and sold along with the empty ones that are falling into disrepair. Dissman, I had rather get rid of YOU than Dr Bedden. He is doing a fine job and you contribute NOTHING with you usual inane diatribes. As for the governor, he is required by the State's Constitution to have a balanced budget.

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