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Hall County Schools prepares for tight budget year
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As fiscal year 2013 approaches, school leaders begin to turn their attention to the upcoming budget.

But, they warn, Hall County Schools’ FY13 budget will be tighter than previous years’.

“We’re already running on fumes, but we’re going to run on a few less fumes next year than we have in the past,” said Will Schofield, superintendent.

Although the board is still waiting on the local tax digest, ideas to combat the shrinking budget are in motion.

Schofield anticipates revenues to be down because of $19 million in state austerity cuts and a change in the way full-time equivalent funding is calculated that will cost the county $1.5 million.

“There were 40 (school) systems (in the state) that lost (after the FTE funding change) and eight that I call the ‘big losers,’” said Schofield. “We were one of those ‘big losers.’”

To offset those losses, the system has talked about decreasing expenditures by $3 to $5 million.

One of the ways the system is looking to save is by increasing class sizes one to two students systemwide, which would eliminate the need to fill 20 empty positions.

That, leaders say, would save the system $1.5 million.

“We are beyond the point where we can avoid cuts that directly impact students,” said Schofield.

The system also will look at each paraprofessional vacancy on a “case-by-case basis,” look into cutting contract days between eight and 10, reducing personnel in the finance, technology and business services departments, lowering Regional Educational Service Agency costs by $100,000 and lowering fuel expenditures by $150,000.

The board also approved the removal of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills exam, which will save the system $40,000 in its first year and $300,000 the next, when new test supplies were needed.

“I make these decisions not as a superintendent, but as a father,” said Schofield. “I have to ask myself the question, looking at 26,000 students as if they were one of my three own: ‘How can we spend this limited time we have left with our students in the most beneficial way?’”

The superintendent also hopes the state legislature will allow systems “flexibility and freedom from the bureaucratic red tape” during the economic slump.

“If we have to do this on the cheap, then let’s at least see what we can throw off the wagon that doesn’t have anything to do with learning and being prepared for the 21st century,” said Schofield.

The budget crunch, Schofield says, emphasizes the need for a different classroom model.

A “blended-learning” model, he says, could help offset some of the costs inherent with the 180-day, traditional model.

The blended model allows students to access information they would normally get in a classroom setting anywhere via online resources.

It wouldn’t completely replace traditional school, but could be a valuable supplement to systems.

“What parents of students in Hall County can expect is we are going to do our level best to try to continue to provide learning opportunities in school and outside of school,” said Schofield. “That’s new, this 24/7, 365 opportunity. We’ve got to move forward with all possible haste to create opportunities outside of school.”

This year the school operated on a budget of around $196 million.

Next year will be tighter, but if this year’s finances stay on course the system could have upwards of $7 million in its reserve fund.

The system expects to have a tentative budget by June 11 and a final budget two weeks later.

 

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