Local schools braced for education budget cuts
by Patrick McCreless
Star Staff Writer
May 26, 2011 | 1214 views |  0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
By Patrick McCreless

pmccreless@annistonstar.com

Through a combination of preparation and saving money, local school systems will likely dodge the layoffs next year that more than a thousand other teachers across Alabama are facing due to state budget cuts, officials say.

The state Legislature approved its 2012, $5.59 billion education budget Wednesday morning. The budget will be without approximately $462 million of federal stimulus money, which has been used during the recession the last few years to shore up the state’s education funding. The stimulus money had been scheduled to expire in 2012.

Without the extra funding, the state will be unable to pay the salaries of 1,125 teachers.

Gov. Robert Bentley still must give final approval to the budget before it is enacted.

Due to the expected expiration of the stimulus funds, combined with the fact the state has been in proration for the last three years due to declining revenue, Calhoun County school systems have prepared themselves for the latest rounds of cuts.

“We tried to plan for this situation — we want kids in grades K-12 to have lower class numbers per teacher so that they’ll perform better,” said Calhoun School Superintendent Joe Dyar.

Dyar said the school system has done its best in recent years to save money from the countywide 1-cent sales tax — passed in 2009 — in its reserves to cover more teacher salaries. The reserve currently holds around $1.2 million, he said.

“We’ve budgeted to pull money from the reserves to fund teachers,” Dyar said.

He added that the school system has cut from nearly everywhere it can in recent years to save money and recently downsized the school bus transportation routes to save an additional $200,000.

Without the 1-cent sales tax, layoffs would likely be necessary next year, but if the economy does not improve after 2012, even the tax money will not be enough to stem the tide, Dyar said.

“If we go another year, we won’t be able to dip into reserves and we may have to make some executive decisions,” he said.

Jon Campbell, superintendent of Jacksonville City Schools, said system officials determined they would be unable to fund two education positions next year because of the cuts, but will not have to lay off anybody due to attrition.

“And once we have the opportunity to study all the budgets, there is a strong likelihood we’ll have to dip into the one-month reserve,” Campbell said.

Jacksonville has about $950,000 in reserve, he said.

Like Calhoun County, Jacksonville’s system has made many cuts and adjustments in recent years to avoid layoffs.

“The school board has cut in previous years and there is not much left to cut,” Campbell said. “And we only fill jobs we absolutely have to even though it puts tremendous strain on our staff.”

Anniston School Superintendent Joan Frazier said her system was also prepared for the state budget cuts.

Frazier said while the cuts would result in the loss of about three or four teachers, she did not expect layoffs since four teachers recently retired and three more resigned.

“So, it may all even out,” Frazier said.

If state funding gets any lower, however, there will likely not be anywhere else in system’s budget to cut except in salaries.

“We’ve been operating at bare bones for quite a while and are being very frugal,” she said. “We’ve been doing that for three years and doing it well.”

Attempts to reach the Oxford and Piedmont school superintendents Wednesday were unsuccessful.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561.


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