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Fewer students, less money from state force Hall schools to cut millions of dollars from budget

POSTED: November 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Due to state revenue shortfalls and less student population growth in the Hall County school system than expected, the Hall County Board of Education cut more than $5.5 million from this year’s budget, according to the Hall County schools deputy superintendent.

The Hall County school board cut about $2.6 million from its budget due to state shortfalls in revenue at its board meeting Monday. The board also unanimously approved more than $2.5 million in cuts from its fiscal year 2009 budget, which began July 1 and originally totaled roughly $218 million, because the school system enrolled only 50 new students this school year.

The cuts will not affect education in the classroom, said Hall County school board Chairman Richard Higgins. The school system is absorbing the cuts by pulling from its surplus. The move will leave the school system with a projected surplus of only $2.25 million at the end of this fiscal year rather than the $8 million surplus system workers projected prior to the start of this school year, Higgins said.

Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County schools, said for the past several years, the school system has taken on an average of about 800 new students each year. The state provides per student funding based on full total enrollment in the fall for school systems.

Without the new student enrollment numbers the school board had expected, the state will not provide the same expected supplemental midterm adjustment for which the board budgeted in the spring.

But the school system already had hired enough teachers to accommodate several hundred new students this school year, Schofield said. The new teachers still must be paid, but the school system has been diligently consolidating positions as workers leave the system due to attrition, he said. Six positions have been consolidated in just the past week, a system employee said at the meeting.

Atop the state’s original $1.5 million austerity cut for the Hall County school system, which school systems statewide traditionally absorb based on how much money the state government has available annually, this year the state has asked school systems to cut another 2 percent from the state-funded portion of their budgets. That 2 percent totals $2.6 million for the Hall County school system, Schofield said.

The original $1.5 million austerity cut, or "program adjustment," was written into the original budget, said Lee Lovett, Hall County schools deputy superintendent.

In addition, Schofield said the school system projects it will receive $800,000 less in federal general allotment funds. The cut in federal funding will cause the school system’s general fund to pick up the cost of about 12 teachers’ salaries, which average about $50,000 each, he said.

Revenue from 1 percent local sales tax, a portion of which is funneled into the school system, also is down from last year, Lovett said.

He said compared to last year, sales tax revenues for the school system are down about $300,000 for September and for October. The September sales tax check for the school system totaled more than $2 million and the October check amounted to nearly $1.7 million, Lovett said.

With the Hall County sales tax revenue checks being written two months after the collection period, Lovett said the school system is bracing for a particularly small check in November because sales are expected to have been down drastically in September due to the gasoline shortage.

Higgins said the sales tax revenue funds bond debt, school construction, technology and building renovations.

He said for the past 10 years, the sales tax revenue has funded the construction of a new county school each year.

Lovett said the system has budgeted for $1.8 million each month for revenue from the 1 percent county sales tax, and will be able to cover its bills. He said the new high school in South Hall may be the school system’s last construction project for some time.

"I imagine if (sales tax revenues) go much lower, we’ll finish the high school and call it quits for a while," he said.


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