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Jackson schools prepare to keep fiscal belts tight

Funding cuts by state forecast slim new year for education

POSTED: December 21, 2008 5:00 a.m.

JEFFERSON — This year, the state of Georgia faced a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, prompting Gov. Sonny Perdue to ask departments across the board to cut their budgets by 6 percent.

Looking ahead to 2009, Jackson County school officials say the district is prepared in case the state decides to cut budgets further.

Jeff Sanchez, assistant superintendent of finance and information services, gave the first in a new series of monthly budget reports at the board of education’s work session last week, noting that the system could handle a small budget reduction if the state mandates it. The district’s budget for 2008 is $83.2 million.

"I did some calculations and if it’s a 2 percent cut based on the state ... we’ll be okay," Sanchez said. "Two percent of our total (Quality Based Education grant) would be $769,000 and our fund balance would be $771,000. However, we’ve got a little cushion in there. Thank goodness the oil and fuel costs have gone down."

The state gives grants to school systems throughout Georgia to use for public education, and that’s where local school systems would see reductions at the state level. But the recent drop in gas prices has given the system some flexibility should a decrease come its way, Sanchez said.

"In August, we were paying $31,000 for a truckload of diesel fuel and in December, we paid $16,328. That’s significant," he said. "In terms of the percent of what we were projecting for fuel costs, we’re a little less than halfway ... so I feel like we’re in good shape."

Sanchez also updated board members on financial plans for the remainder of the 2008-2009 school year and plans for the 2009-2010 school year, which include looking at class sizes and funding for field trips.

Teachers who have been cutting back their requests for supplies may get a bit of a reprieve come January, when the finance department plans to lift some restrictions on those requests.

"Right now the expenditures are on target and a little bit under budget so far," Sanchez said. "I’m going to relax a few restrictions on purchase orders for the schools in January since we’ll have that TAN (tax anticipation note) paid off and let them get the supplies and materials they’ve been doing without."

The school board approved a resolution in July to issue a $12 million tax anticipation note, which allows a local government to give a school system funding for operations until taxes are collected.

The Jackson County school board will pay back the money by Dec. 31, according to school officials.

Looking ahead at the 2009-2010 school year, Sanchez said the principals for all schools in the county have received information about next year’s financial allotments per school. In addition, the school system’s budget committees have met already to look at class sizes for next year.

"Budget committees met several times with several individuals making sure that the class size and program size will be efficient for the next school year," he said. "We’re also considering how we fund field trips, which would include band, chorus and vocational activities. It may be that they’re going to have to rely on the booster clubs more to cover those costs, and I hate that."

Sanchez said the budget committees also discussed staff sizes for the school system, though no hard and fast decisions have been made yet.



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