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School boards to talk money on Monday
Hall County, Gainesville leaders to discuss fiscal year budgets
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With an eye toward the Gold Dome and growth in their backyards, the Gainesville and Hall County school systems are gearing up for budget season.

Administrators with both districts plan to start the ball rolling on budget discussions at their respective school board meetings Monday night. Next fiscal year's budget year begins July 1 for both systems.
"What concerns me ... is the uncertainty of what's going to come out of Atlanta in terms of funding," said Will Schofield, Hall County schools superintendent.

The legislature is looking at a number of financial measures, from tax relief to vouchers, that could affect education funding.

The one budget issue school systems statewide are watching particularly is "austerity cuts," or the amount subtracted from state allotments.

Proposed amounts vary from Gov. Sonny Perdue's $141.5 million reduction to the state Senate's $88.5 million, according to the Georgia School Boards Association's Capitol Watch Online.

Schofield said he is discouraged by developments in the legislature. "It does not sound like a pro-education environment at this point."

Rising enrollments in specialized areas also are, as they have been for years, a concern at budget time.

"We continue to spiral in terms of ... numbers of (English-language learners) to special ed children," Schofield said. "The number of teachers that we're adding again is going to be disproportionately large."

He estimates the district could add about 80 teaching positions overall next year, at a cost of about $6 million.

Schofield said he would like to suggest, as part of budget talks, consideration of an "Advanced Placement Summer Institute" to help with increasing the passing rate of AP test takers, expanding the Honors Mentorship Program and increasing classroom technology, among other initiatives.

Also, to keep up with growth, the district is looking at leasing or buying up to 40 portable classrooms.

Rising fuel costs also are a concern. The Hall County system could see that expense increase to $2 million from $1.7 million this year, officials said earlier.

Schofield said he expects the Hall County Board of Education "being very deliberate and taking the next three months to craft the (budget)," finalizing it by its June meeting.

Janet Allison, chief financial officer for the city system, plans to give a budget report at a joint meeting of the Gainesville City Board of Education and Gainesville City Council.

"I plan on giving an overview of the budget process and some preliminary revenue projections for (next fiscal year)," she said. "I had anticipated a preliminary projection on salaries and benefits for this meeting, but I do not have that yet."

Allison added that it is "too early to speculate" on the tax rate.

Gainesville, too, is growing at a rapid clip, about 7 percent a year, and looking at how to deal particularly with a rising elementary-age population.

Funding concerns, however, have stymied plans for its sixth elementary, Mundy Mill Academy.

The Hall County school board is set to meet at 5 p.m. Monday at the system's central office at 711 Green St.

The joint meeting of the Gainesville school board and council meeting is set for 6 p.m. Monday at the Gainesville Civic Center at 830 Green St.

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