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City schools' staff to talk about additional budget cuts
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The superintendent of Gainesville city schools will meet with the school system’s administrative staff today to identify more cuts for the 2009 fiscal year budget.

Superintendent Steven Ballowe said he will sit down with the staff to determine which of the staff’s recommended cuts will be most effective in trimming the tentative $61.6 million budget. Ballowe also said the staff is working on a budget that will create a greater surplus of funds at the end of the 2009 fiscal year, which starts Tuesday and ends June 30, 2009, to pay off more of the school system’s estimated $6.5 million deficit.

A final school system budget is due Monday to the state Board of Education.

Right now, the proposed budget anticipates a surplus of $1.4 million in the 2009 fiscal year that will be applied to the system’s deficit, leaving a $5.1 million deficit at the end of June next year.

"This is a fiscal challenge, not a crisis," Ballowe said. "It seems to some people our expenditures have jumped from $53 million to $61 million according to the ad in The Times paper, but that $61 million includes our federal and grant money."

Ballowe said he and the staff will spend the morning reviewing the six pages of staff-recommended cuts presented to school board members on June 16.

"We are meeting ... to actually go through that list item by item to determine what has been cut and what the savings were," he said. "We’ve already cut another $46,514 from the general administration account."

Ballowe also said he and the staff will devise a deficit reduction plan in time for the school board meeting on July 7.

"Once we approve the millage rate and the proposed expenditures, the difference is the beginning of our deficit reduction plan," he said.

The proposed tax increase would raise the millage from 6.96 to 7.96 mills.

If a 7.96 tax rate is adopted, the owner of a $183,800 home — the median home price in Gainesville — would pay $183 in additional school tax. The tax increase could provide roughly $3 million more revenue for Gainesville city schools.

The school system also is expecting about $600,000 in new federal funding during the next two years, as well as $125,000 from the state to be divided between academy programs, Ballowe said. Also, he said the school system is likely to receive $100 per pupil for supplies this school year.

In addition, Ballowe said he anticipates grants from the state or federal government to help foster the charter school district’s objectives.

Some of the staff-recommended budget cuts include postponing the replacement of a school’s roof that could cost nearly $1 million, as well as holding off on repairs to the baseball field at Gainesville High School that could cost $165,000.

Ballowe said possible cuts also could include eliminating the Phoenix Academy, which helps Hispanic students assimilate into city schools, and personnel cuts.

The superintendent said the number of students in the Phoenix Academy has recently decreased, and those students who speak Spanish as a first language will still receive one-on-one attention from teachers in other academy programs. According to the budget recommendations handed out to residents who attended the June 16 board meeting, eliminating the Phoenix Academy would save the system $130,000 by cutting its two teachers’ salaries.

"We’re fine-tuning the personnel positions," he said.

Ballowe said the staff could identify specific personnel contracts that may not be renewed in February depending on performance reviews to be conducted before the February hiring period.

He said state auditors now are finishing up reviews of the system’s 2007 fiscal year finances.

"It’s important now because that’s the year that will begin showing whether we addressed our capital assets and our cash flow," he said. "In that area, we’ve been working very diligently in the past year to make sure everything is properly accounted for."

In accordance with the state requirement for school systems operating with a budget, Ballowe said the school system will begin submitting monthly financial reports to the state Department of Education in August. He said the reports will require signatures from each member of the Gainesville City Board of Education.

"There are six school districts in Georgia that will go through the monthly reports," Ballowe said. "We will be joining that list. It’s good accountability, and we don’t shy away from good accountability."

Despite the fiscal problems that have arisen this year, Ballowe said the students of Gainesville city schools will not be the ones paying the price.

"This will not affect day-to-day operations," he said. "Our class sizes are going to stay the same.

"I look forward to another two years in Gainesville," Ballowe said. "We’re looking forward to an exciting year. I think it will be one of our best years ever."