Richmond County school budget awaits OK

The Richmond County Board of Education could adopt a budget today that requires nearly all of its employees to chip in to offset a $24.5 million shortfall.

Completing the fiscal year 2010 budget proved so daunting that school administrators did something unprecedented. They presented board members with an unbalanced budget and sought their help in slicing millions out of it.

The monthslong process has wiped out the shortfall and whittled the proposed budget down to $255,241,336. On June 4, the school board gave tentative approval, but state law required two weeks to pass before a final adoption.

Into the hole

Several factors came together to put the school system into its $24,558,675 hole.

The largest factor was an $11 million "adjustment" to the state's education funding formula. That's the difference in what Richmond County earned through the formula and what Georgia is giving the school system.

Richmond County also took a $9 million hit from expenses related to health care. Most of that is the result of the state increasing the school system's share of health care costs.

Also contributing to the shortfall, the school board relied on one-time fixes to plug a financial hole last year, including digging into its reserves and selling vacant properties, some of which didn't sell.

The costs of doing business have also risen, such as minimum wage and retirement costs.

Plan to get out

The proposed budget requires nearly every school employee to help reduce the budget shortfall, but avoids anyone losing a job.

All certified employees with 190-day contracts, which includes teachers, counselors and media specialists, along with bus drivers will have their pay reduced the equivalent of four days. For teachers, this comes from their local supplement.

All other employees will be furloughed four days, which means they will be required to take off four unpaid days.

The only employees not affected are the maintenance and custodial employees who had their pay reduced last year.

The smallest pay cut would be paraprofessionals, who would lose $67.67 per day, and the largest would be Superintendent Dana Bedden, who would lose $764.62 per day. Among other measures being taken to balance the budget, the proposal also calls for:

- Increasing class size and reducing 43 teaching positions;

- Increasing student parking fees to $25;

- Increasing locker fees to $10;

- Eliminating the following open positions: textbook warehouseman, 25.5 custodial positions, one central office coordinator, one psychologist, one assistant principal, one data clerk and one media specialist; and

- Leaving the assistant superintendent for administrative services position vacant for one year.

About $3.2 million in federal stimulus money will be used to pay for dozens of teaching positions that would have been cut.

For a complete presentation on the budget, go to the school board's Web site at www.rcboe.org and click on "Richmond County School System 2010 Budget."

Other shortfalls

The fiscal year 2010 shortfall is only the latest for the Richmond County school system.

In June 2007, the school board cut $19 million to balance its budget.

A few months later, in October 2007, another $1.6 million was slashed.

In June 2008, the board offset a $13.4 million shortfall. During the year, another $12 million was cut from the budget.

Finance and Accounting Director Anita Faglier said more cuts could be on the horizon. If the state's economy doesn't turn around, a special session of the General Assembly will need to be called and more cuts could be made.

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

WHAT'S NEXT?

The Richmond County school board will hold a special called meeting at 9 this morning to consider giving final approval to the fiscal year 2010 budget.