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City schools present budget figures at hearings

POSTED: May 14, 2013 7:55 p.m.

The few people who showed at the hearings got to see the thinking behind the math in the Gainesville school system’s crafting a budget for fiscal 2013-14.

“We, as a community, just hear that there are cuts and (employee) furloughs,” said Sam Couvillon, who has two children in the system. “You don’t understand the deeper meaning behind them.”

In three public hearings Tuesday night at Gainesville High School, including one for staff, school officials — primarily Chief Financial Officer Janet Allison — laid bare the projected expenses and revenues for next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

She also detailed why amounts were higher or lower.

Offhand, increases in teacher retirement, health and other insurance costs, and step increases and upgraded certification are jacking up expenses by $1.34 million.

At the same time, however, the system expects its state allotment to be about $1.35 million more. A projected drop in property tax revenue could cut into that amount by $70,533.

Allison presented numbers based on the tax rate at 7.59 mills, or the same as the rolled-up amount approved by the City Board of Education in the fall.

One mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value, with property in the city assessed at 100 percent.

One thing the city doesn’t account for in its budgeting is a “midterm adjustment,” or money that systems get from the state later in the school year to help account for higher-than-expected growth.

“We don’t know if we’re going to grow,” Allison said.

Overall, the system is estimating nearly $53.9 million in revenues and $56.7 million in expenses next fiscal year, with the system’s fund balance making up the difference.

The system had projected to end this fiscal year with a balance of about $6.5 million, but Allison said that number could reach $7.2 million.

“If that’s the case, that (higher amount) will help us with the $1 million or so that the board has to consider building into the budget,” Allison said.

She was referring to “various and sundry things, like textbooks — about $600,000 of that ... for Common Core.”

The Common Core Georgia Performance Standards is a “set of core standards for kindergarten through high school in English language arts, mathematics, and grades 6-12 literacy in science, history/social studies and technical subjects,” according to the Georgia Department of Education.

Allison cautioned about cutting into year-end balances too frequently.

“You do that too many times (and) you’re in deficit,” she said. “We’ve been very fortunate in that we have gotten midterm (adjustments) and our (tax) collections have been good.”

A big debate in education funding, at least since the economic downturn, has been whether to impose furlough days on all employees or freeze longevity pay, or step increases, Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.

“If a school system is not having a lot of furlough days, then they’re freezing,” she said.

Dyer said that has been an annual discussion in the Gainesville system, which has opted for furloughs, as well.

“We still need to examine that,” she said. “If we froze, we could have kids in school a couple more days, but we ask ourselves if our kids are achieving with the number of days we’re going now.

“If teachers can teach with effectiveness with fewer days and get their step increases, what is the least risk for us?” Dyer said.


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