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Gainesville City School's budget only trims $1.4 million
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The Gainesville City Board of Education’s proposed budget for next year will only cut $1.4 million from its estimated $6.5 million deficit, documents obtained Friday show.

The school board’s tentative budget for fiscal year 2009, which starts July 1, calls for about $61.6 million in expenses through June 30, 2009. The board estimates it will spend about $6.4 million more during the upcoming fiscal year than it planned to spend in fiscal year 2008.

According to a tentative budget document The Times received Friday afternoon from Janet Allison, finance director for Gainesville City Schools, the school system still will have a deficit of more than $5.1 million by the end of June 2009.

A proposed 1-mill increase in the millage could generate approximately $3 million in additional revenue for the system. But at the end of the year, the system expects to have a surplus of only $1.4 million to apply to the estimated $6.5 million deficit, according to the board’s budget draft.

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 Times made repeated attempts to contact Allison. She did not return phone calls, but answered some questions via e-mail. Efforts were made to reach Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Steven Ballowe and the five members of the school board, but no messages or e-mails were returned.

Shirley Whitaker, assistant superintendent of Gainesville City Schools, could not be reached.

In an e-mail response, Allison said the school system is prepared to submit monthly financial reports to the state Department of Education as the law requires of school boards operating with a deficit. She added the state DOE uses the state audit report, rather than the deficit reported in the budgeting process, to determine whether monthly reporting is required.

"We will submit monthly financials to the State when we are required to do so," Allison said. "The Board definitely plans to take all measures to meet all reporting requirements. We have been in contact with the State and they are aware of our situation."

The tentative budget revealed major cuts from three funds. In comparison to fiscal year 2008, the school board will spend nearly $400,000 less on the improvement of instructional services, more than $1 million less on maintenance and operation costs and more than $500,000 less on capital expenses.

Dana Tofig, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said state education officials are aware of Gainesville City Schools’ deficit.

"Our concern is to help Gainesville get back to the point where they don’t have a deficit," Tofig said. "Gainesville has been very forthcoming about these issues with us."

The Gainesville City Board of Education will hold a public meeting Tuesday to consider obtaining a tax anticipatory note that could loan the city about $5 million.