According to Superintendent Will Schofield, four years ago the Hall County school system’s operating budget was about $217 million.
The total revenues so far in fiscal year 2012 are $184 million. Over that time, the system has added about
School leaders expect more of the same in fiscal 2013, which starts July 1. But they’ll have fewer reserve funds to handle any unanticipated shortfalls.
That was the plan, though. Around the start of the declining economy, Schofield said the school board made some cuts, including 120 positions districtwide, in order to maintain the reserve fund.
“One of the ways that we got through this current year is by understanding that we would have to spend a significant amount of our reserve fund balance,” Schofield said.
The reserve fund spending was anticipated at the beginning of fiscal 2012 and was budgeted to meet the $197 million in expenditures.
At the beginning of the year, that fund was almost $20 million. Entering the next fiscal year, that fund will be around $7 million.
Since implementing the budget last year, property taxes, the local source of revenue, have decreased significantly.
Last year, about 6,800 appeals were handled by the tax assessors office following property appraisals.
Those appeals resulted in a total digest loss of more than $160 million.
That took nearly $2 million directly away from Hall County Schools, which the system then made up in reserve funds.
Deputy Superintendent Lee Lovett said the digest may dip another 6 to 9 percent, costing the schools another $4 million to $6 million in funding next year.
“Again, we keep hoping that the economy is going to turn and we’re going to see an upturn in school funding,” Schofield said. “Not only is that not happening, we’re seeing an additional loss in funding this year.”
One way to counter that would be to increase property taxes, something Schofield said will “have to be on the table.”
To add to the funding loss, the state is working on a new way to divide equalization funds, with the aim to help out smaller, more rural systems. The new system could cost Hall County Schools another $2 million.
Schofield also said the system will be required to double health care costs for its 1,500 classified employees.
Those financial burdens, along with another projected $20 million in austerity cuts from the state, pose substantial challenges in setting the fiscal 2013 budget.
“We have a little money left in the bank, but we’re coming to the end of the road in terms of how we’re going to continue to sustain and pay for education,” Schofield said. “It’s going to be challenging.”
And, Schofield said, the system is already running very “lean.”
He said the system operates at about $650 lower per pupil than the state average.
“What this says in the big picture is that we’re going to have to find dramatically different ways to provide
services than we have in the past,” Schofield said.
“We’re scrambling just as fast as we possibly can to put those in order.”