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Hall County school board reviews lean 2012 budget
District costs expected to rise by about $6 million next year, Schofield says
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Money was the main focus at the Hall County school board's annual retreat Saturday.

The talks centered on the fiscal year 2012 budget, which should be finalized this June. With continued cuts at the state level and the depletion of federal stimulus dollars, the future will likely hold another year of making do with less.

"There will be some challenging decisions ahead," Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said.

Schofield presented a projection of the revenues and expenditures for fiscal year 2012 at the Hall County Schools Central Office.

District costs are expected to rise by about $6 million next year, he said. The amount included a projected increase in fuel and personnel costs.

Schofield also predicted about $1.9 million in increased funding from the state next year.

If the district maintains its current funding levels, the ending fund balance next year could be $184,139, Schofield explained. The fund balance would start at $10 million.

Schofield said the district has made painful cuts in the last several years as state funds have decreased. Among the changes, teacher salaries were reduced and the school board voted to close Jones Elementary School in 2010.

"I don't see any dramatic cutbacks ahead," Schofield said. "We made most of cuts two years ago and we're ahead of the curve. Natural attrition ought to take care of us in any modifications we have to make."

The upcoming special purpose local option sales tax referendum was another major point of business Saturday.

Early voting is currently under way for the renewal of a 1-cent sales tax for education. Election Day is March 15.

SPLOST revenues would be used for school renovations, construction and bond payment in Gainesville, Hall County and Buford schools.

Schofield said the first SPLOST passed in 1997 helped fund the construction of new schools, as about 1,000 students joined the district each year. Enrollment figures have slowed in recent years, which has given the district a new focus.

"This slowing down is a godsend because it's allowing us to catch our breath and focus on older spaces that have been neglected," he said.

Several buildings in Gainesville and Hall County now are 40 to 65 years old and in need of significant repair, said Damon Gibbs, Johnson High School principal and the system's construction manager.

"We're not letting the facilities go but we've been dealing with things only as they break down," Gibbs said.

He said several projects could be addressed quickly if the SPLOST is approved. Crews would install new fire alarms in several schools as well as safety entrances, which lead visitors into a foyer that directs them to the front office.

The board also discussed plans to use the funding to reduce principal and interest on outstanding bonds, which would make the system debt free for the first time in decades.

School board member Nath Morris said existing bonds must be paid by 2014. If the SPLOST vote fails, the likely alternative would be an increase in property taxes, he said.