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City schools want to delay projects
Officials trying to save funds to pay for sixth elementary school
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GAINESVILLE — Gainesville schools Superintendent Steven Ballowe asked the City Board of Education Monday night to hold back on some $2.5 million in projects to better prepare the district for the costs of a sixth elementary school.

"We need to put every penny we can toward Mundy Mill Academy," Ballowe said.

The district has topped 6,100 students this school year, an 8.2 percent increase over last year’s enrollment of 5,673, according to the latest enrollment figures as reported by the Georgia Department of Education.

The school system needs the sixth elementary school to relieve overcrowding.

"I don’t think we can afford to wait on Mundy Mill," Ballowe said. "... We may have to increase some class sizes in second, third, fourth and fifth grades next year, but I think we can handle that for a year."

Ballowe estimates that the district will need $3 million on top of money from the state and the district’s 1-cent sales tax program to pay for the new elementary school, which would open in the fall of 2009.

And he said he expects that the district’s "carryover" fund, or surplus money at the end of each fiscal year, would help make the ends meet.

Several projects Ballowe is seeking to postpone until at least June 30 involve roofing work at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy, Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School, Centennial Arts Academy and Gainesville Middle School.

With some of the projects, "we are looking at some other options," Ballowe said.

The system also would delay buying a new school bus, security-contracted services and expenses for administrative travel.

The district is hoping for $4.3 million in state "capital outlay" money toward the Mundy Mill project.

David Shumake, assistant superintendent, said that last year, the legislature tried to cut the funding to 40 percent of earmarked amounts.

"It took the school systems (in Georgia) to make the point ... that we need this to be funded ... at 100 percent," he said. "Otherwise, we would have a very difficult time building buildings and doing the extra we need to do to handle the classroom space for our children."

Shumake said the district also needs to monitor monthly revenues generated by the district’s sales-tax program "in reference to how our economy is doing," including whether "the drought is going to have some kind of economic impact."

He also said the system would need to keep an eye on a bill by Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson to replace school property taxes with a sales tax.

Board members didn’t take a vote on Ballowe’s proposed budget changes, but some voiced their support.

Kelvin Simmons said that he believed that if the district didn’t know funding certainties, "the best thing you can do is tighten up the belt."

"We have to be very frugal," he said. "We don’t know what the state is going to cut."

In addition to last year’s near-miss with capital outlay, the state has for several years withheld funding otherwise designated for school districts in what has been called "austerity cuts."

The funding drop began in the early part of the decade when an economic downtown caused a drop in state revenues.

Chairwoman Lee Highsmith said the board needed to hold the line on spending but make sure that needs are covered. "We have to balance our frugality with what is reasonable," she said.