Members say options open to make cuts

Richmond County school board members gave every indication Monday that they intend to fully consider a list of options, including pay cuts, layoffs and furloughs, to offset a $24.5 million shortfall.

Controller Gene Spires said this is the first time he has presented the board with an unbalanced budget, but Superintendent Dana Bedden said it's important to get the board's input early in the budget process.

Monday was the first meeting on the fiscal year 2010 budget. No action was taken on the $272.5 million proposal, but before the board adjourned Dr. Bedden asked board members to voice any concerns they might have regarding the options presented.

No one voiced any opposition to moving forward with the cuts.

"I think you just need to keep drilling, obviously as painlessly as possible," said Frank Dolan, chairman of the board's finance committee, thankful that the superintendent didn't spare any "sacred cows."

The budget options spread the financial burden to all employees.

The pay cuts would reduce all 190-day certified employees by $750 annually. This includes teachers, media specialists and counselors. Public hearings must be held before the board can do this.

The options also call for furloughing all other employees for four days.

"That includes me," Dr. Bedden said. "Everybody's got to feel the pain."

The loss of four days would come to more than $750 for senior school leaders and less than $750 for the lowest-paid employees.

The budget proposal, which includes larger classes and several other measures, reduced the original shortfall to $18 million, and the list of cost-saving options could reduce it by another $10 million. That leaves about $7.8 million for officials to find.

"Everybody's an expert on cuts if you read the papers," Dr. Bedden said, adding that in less than two years as superintendent he has sliced $27 million from the budget.

The 2010 budget proposal increases expenditures by about $5.5 million from the current year, attributed largely to "the costs of doing business," such as a state-mandated salary step increase for teachers and increased benefits costs, Director of Finance and Accounting Anita Faglier said.

The budget shortfall is the result of those rising costs, decreasing revenue and slumping enrollment.

"We've already been whacked by about $4 million" as a result of the declining enrollment, Dr. Bedden said.

The board will continue its discussions on the budget during a special called meeting at 4 p.m. today. Another budget meeting has been called for 2:30 p.m. May 26.

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

ONLINE EXTRA

Click here to read the complete fiscal year 2010 proposed budget.

See our database of school employee salaries at augustachronicle.com/metro/salaries/school.shtml.