School budget cuts will be $1.8M less than was predicted
by Megan Thornton
April 19, 2013 11:32 PM | 2667 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There was a sliver of good news about the 2013-14 budget for next year at the Cherokee County Board of Education work session Thursday: state austerity budget reductions are only at $24.8 million, rather than the predicted $26.6 million.

However, the board will need to make about $9 million in new cuts, Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo said. While the level of cuts won’t allow for any reduction in the present eight furlough days, he said his top priority for his ad hoc budget committee is to not add any more.

“The good news, if there is any, is that’s $1.8 million less than the austerity reduction last year,” Petruzielo said. “It’s the first time we’ve had a reduction in the austerity arena.”

Petruzielo said many board members have voiced concerns over the last few years about reducing furlough days but that the prospect is unlikely.

“Frankly, if we can manage a tentative budget for next year without increasing the number of furlough days, I will be pretty happy in light of the economic circumstances that we find ourselves in,” he said.

Petruzielo reminded the board that this money is owed under the statutorily-required Quality Basic Education, the state formula for funded local school systems.

“We hope that is the beginning of a trend,” Petruzielo said of the decrease, noting it is appreciated and a “move in the right direction.”

But the almost $2 million reduction in cuts from the state is not enough to cover many of the district’s identified needs in the upcoming year, which include reducing class sizes, restoring the number of school days back to 180, providing employee salary step increases, addressing rising health insurance costs and contributing to the state retirement plan.

Reserves are expected to be at about $28 million for next year, though they should be at about $45 million based on a board policy recommending the district maintain 12 to 15 percent of the previous year’s expenditures in reserves.

Petruzielo also reflected on neighboring Cobb County’s financial woes that have made recent headlines, but offered little sympathy when comparing his own district’s cuts.

“All of the options on that (Cobb’s) table we have already implemented,” he said. “We’ve already taken a hit for just about all of those things they now are saying are problematic.”

More details on the budget will be presented to the school board at the budget conference work session May 16, where a more clear-cut budget will be presented that will include local tax digest numbers, which school district officials expect to receive in coming weeks.

Petruzielo said preliminary information from the Cherokee County Tax Assessor’s office suggests the tax digest will likely be flat this year following a $30 million decline in revenues in the last three years.

Assistant Superintendent for Financial Management Candler Howell said April 24 should be the final ad hoc budget committee meeting prior to the budget presentation.

On June 13, the superintendent will present a recommended tentative budget, which will be tabled to allow for public input until the next month’s special called meeting July 24 where the board will be asked to vote on the final budget.
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