Alabama schools already cut to the bone are bracing for likely financial cuts as early as October, just weeks after the start of the 2010 fiscal year. Gov. Bob Riley is expected to declare proration of at least 6 percent because of lack of tax dollars coming in, a memo from state Superintendent Joe Morton says.
"Obviously, we all hope and pray this is wrong and that the economy in Alabama picks up quickly and that proration of 6 % for FY 2010 will not come to pass," Morton wrote to county and city superintendents of education in July. "Planning for a 6% proration figure and having it be less is so much better than planning on zero and having it be 6%."
Anniston Superintendent Joan Frazier said the educational philosophy now changes from trying to progress to trying to survive.
"It just continues to put you behind the eight ball …," she said.
Area school leaders were not taken by surprise. Some, including Frazier, expect proration to even reach 10 percent.
School leaders are factoring in at least 6 percent proration while they continue developing their budgets for 2010. One thing is certain: No teachers will lose their jobs because of proration. It's against state law.
However, it will mean teachers doing more with less — no advancement in technology, no funds to buy classroom supplies, no expansion of programs.
It's a tough pill to swallow, as school systems faced 11 percent proration last school year when Riley twice declared mid-year budget cuts to fight the recession. The state cannot operate with a deficit budget.
"We definitely will have to dip into our reserves," said Judy Stiefel, Calhoun County Schools superintendent, adding she believes money from the federal economic stimulus package will help her system brace proration.
Proration is mandatory budget cuts imposed when tax receipts coming in fall short of what was projected.
Fortunately a 1-cent sales tax initiative continues to be a lifeline for the five schools systems in Calhoun County. The countywide levy, which began in January, has generated millions for the school systems to save jobs and programs.
The tax is expected to pump $2.5 million into Oxford schools for the 2010 school year. Chief Finance Officer Robbie Jordan said this will allow them to keep funding about 20 more teachers than the state pays for.
He also added that the city of Oxford's own 1-cent sales tax initiative is projected to bring in another $4.8 million. (Shoppers in Oxford pay a total of 10 cents on the dollar.)
"We couldn't make it without (the two taxes)," he said.
But Jordan cautioned his school board Tuesday morning that proration could be as high as 10 percent. That would mean $2 million hacked out of the budget.
In Jacksonville, Superintendent Eric Mackey said a 6-percent hit would cut $540,000 from his $9 million budget for 2010. He saw it was coming.
He said teachers usually get $500 each for classroom expenses. But he cut that to $200 this year because of the likelihood of proration. He said it also means that when teachers approach him and ask him to fund another position here, or another program there, "you tell them, 'No way. You can't do that.'"