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Gainesville City Schools board adopts budget
Member calls for community education on system's financial issues
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Gainesville residents will get no last-minute surprises this year as the Gainesville City Schools Board of Education adopted the fiscal year 2013 budget.

The $68.4 million budget, with no changes since the adoption of the tentative budget two weeks ago, was unanimously voted on.

Revenues will be around $65 million, leaving a $3.4 million gap between revenues and expenditures. That will be made up from a $6.5 million reserve fund.

The system will also use 10 furlough days, saving about $2 million in associated costs.

This will make the fourth year in a row the system has turned to furlough days to balance the shrinking budget.

But some board members think the days of putting budget woes on the faculty’s and staff’s shoulders should be over.

“From my viewpoint, we sort of balance the budget by teachers and other staff doing more, but being paid less,” said David Syfan, board member. “And they have, to their credit, come through for the community, but I just feel the community needs to recognize that and at some point we just have to say the teachers have supported us, now we need to go in and support the teachers and do what’s right for our kids.”

A part of that support, Syfan said, could be millage increases.

The millage rate this year is 7.39 and has been for three years now.

The system could have rolled that rate up to 7.75 to make up for the $1 million in lost local revenue, but chose not to.

That could change next year, but, Syfan said, he wants to roll out some information before rolling up any taxes.

“I feel like if we take it to the community and educate them and let them know what’s happening, they’ll come back and support our school system and one of those ways may be, not a major millage increase, but a millage increase,” said Syfan.

He believes that if the public knows of the impact of shrinking state funding and other financial issues school systems face, it would be willing to have the conversation.

“I think everyone has a feel that the schools have been impacted by less state funding and the tax digest going down, but unless you’re directly involved in it you’re probably too busy to have a true idea of that what means,” he said.

A community-oriented education program from the board could open eyes to the decision-making process behind school budgets, including millage increases.

“We can’t do (a millage increase) in time for this year and, to me, as everyone knows, you talk about millage, it’s always controversial,” said Syfan. “So I think we need to do a community education program, so to speak, to let (residents) understand what we’re talking about and why we need it and why we think it’s a good thing for the community. I think when the community hears it, they’ll do what’s right for kids.”

This year, Gainesville City Schools lost out on $4.7 million of state money because of austerity cuts and was required to pay about $1 million more in health benefits and teacher retirement.

To help balance that, outside of furloughs, the system cut employee day care and will cut 24 positions systemwide through attrition, nonrenewals and shifting employees.

The board will re-evalaute the furlough days throughout the year and has the option of adding days back depending on revenue.

“I would hope that if we have the opportunity in the next school year to restore a couple of the furlough days, we could do so,” said Willie Mitchell, chairman.

The system did not freeze salary raises for qualified employees, something that many neighboring systems are doing.

Systems are required to adopt a final budget by July 1.

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