A projected $18 million increase in the Hall County school system’s upcoming budget is partly a reflection of rising diesel costs.
The Hall County school board approved a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2009 that reserved $2.4 million for the cost of fuel — nearly $2 million more than the schools spent on diesel four years ago, Hall County schools Superintendant Will Schofield said.
The school board will not adopt a final budget — or vote on the millage rate — until mid-June, but Monday’s preliminary budget called for more than $226 million in general spending in fiscal year 2009. Schofield hinted that the final budget would call for less spending than Monday’s preliminary one.
"Expenses will not go up. There is a strong possibility that number will go down," Schofield said.
Schofield said 95 percent of the increase comes from a small number of expenses, but how much of an increase hasn’t been decided. Officials don’t know what fuel will cost or how many new students will enroll, Schofield said.
The preliminary budget calls for 90 additional teachers systemwide, but Schofield said that number could be smaller — maybe 80 — due to lower than expected student enrollment.
"We’re still growing, but not as fast as we expected (to grow)," Schofield said.
The decline in enrollment is mainly in schools that have greater Hispanic populations, and Schofield said the stunt in growth is directly tied to new immigration rules in the area and the economy.
"I’m glad we have two to three weeks to continue to look at those enrollment numbers," Schofield said.
Other major players in the fiscal year 2009 budget increases are raises for teachers, the expense of opening the school system’s 34th school, Chestnut Mountain Elementary, utility costs, technology and maintenance costs, Schofield said.
In other business, the board approved a nod to move forward on the restoration of the football field at Flowery Branch High School. The field, afflicted by the drought and overuse, needs a major overhaul to be safe for athletes next season, Schofield said.
"To say it’s in a state of disrepair would be an understatement," Schofield said.
Physical education classes, recreation teams and school athletes have all helped to rub some of the already dry grass off the field, and the drought has turned the soil into a hard clay, almost like cement, Schofield said.
Watering restrictions have kept the school system from maintaining the field — normally cared for with city water — properly.
The board’s action allows the school system to make use of a well to water the field, and the school will move forward with a complete overhaul of the area, killing the existing grass, aerating and hydroseeding the field and vigorously watering it to prepare it for the upcoming football season.
More than once, Schofield mentioned that the overhaul was not for aesthetic purposes, but for safety purposes. He said the hard clay would result in many injuries.
"If we don’t do something now, then we’re going to have kids playing on concrete out there," Schofield said.