Coweta school system set to absorb furlough days

The Georgia General Assembly in order to make up for falling revenues may dish out three more furlough days for school system employees around the state. But in Coweta County those days will have no effect on paychecks, since the Coweta County School Board voted March 9 to have the school system absorb the cost of up to three furlough days.

Coweta School System Public Information Officer Dean Jackson said the the board was expecting legislative efforts to balance the state budget that ends June 30 to potentially include cuts to the state Dept. of Education that would by passed on to local systems in the form of three additional furlough days.

But Jackson said that eventuality will not have to show up on employees paychecks as a reduction in pay since the school board as of February has instituted sufficient cost savings measures to absorb the cuts that would amount to approximately $600,000 per day.
“We should be able to do that without dipping into the reserves,” Jackson said.

The school system during the recession has put $1-2 million per year into the reserve account. Coweta’s general fund budget sits at approximately $172 million. Reserves currently sit at more than $22 million.

Jackson said the school board Tuesday night approved the motion following a financial report from school system officials that the school system anticipated a balanced budget for the school year, based on current trends. The balanced budget would be achieved despite significant cuts from the state of Georgia before and after the start of the 2009-10 financial year, which led to significant net decreases in the school system’s operational budget below the previous school year, Jackson said.

“Financially, we’re in good shape, and we’ve been careful,” said Chairman Steve Bedrosian. “I’m in favor of absorbing the final three furlough days during this fiscal year.”

Jackson said other board members agreed with Bedrosian, noting that all school system teachers and administrators, and most school system support staff, had been furloughed three days without pay during the first half of the school year, after state budget cuts were announced in July of 2009 following the start of the new school fiscal year.

Board member Harry Mullins said that those cuts, distributed throughout a year’s worth of employee pay periods, were significant, but to add another round of unpaid furlough days spread over only a few remaining pay periods this year would amount to very large monthly pay decreases for employees.

Additional furlough days would also cut a number of necessary planning days for teachers, during which lesson plans, report cards and many other requirements are met by teachers, Mullins said.

Mullins noted that the board had asked teachers, employees and administrators last year to carefully control spending and work through diminished operational budgets.

“They did that, which has put us in the good financial shape we’re in,” Mullins said. “We can afford it. Let’s do it.”

Jackson explained that the state has not officially approved the additional employee furlough days and will not until the Georgia legislature finishes an amended Fiscal Year 2010 budget in the coming weeks. Three additional employee furlough days during the current fiscal year ending June 30 are included in current versions of the state’s amended budget and are widely expected, Jackson said.

The school board’s vote followed a report from Coweta County School’s Assistance Superintendent for Finances Keith Chapman that the school system had achieved cost savings throughout the school year that had made up other state budget cuts announced in July of last year.

The school board in June 2009 adopted a General Fund Budget for the 2009-2010 school year of $172,206,757, Jackson said. Funded principally by state revenues and local property taxes, the budget reflected a net decrease of $3.7 million over the school system’s 2008-09 General Fund budget of $175,931,581, Jackson added.

Jackson said that after the current school year began in July the state announced further state budget cuts to school of $1,229,564 in the form of furloughs for school employees and $2,221,778 in other funding cuts, on top of the previous year’s spending cuts, reducing the budget by an additional $3.5 million.

Superintendent Blake Bass March 9 said the school system had absorbed the additional budget cuts through postponing some needed expenditures, such as additional school buses, careful budgeting and control of spending.

Bass added that the school system had operated in a balanced budget for several years despite earlier and current-year state budget cuts and without raising local property tax rates. Despite economically difficult times, “we are on track to end up in good financial shape for the year,” he said.

Bass March 9 also said that the school system has maintained a balanced financial sheet and moderately increased its reserves for five years through conservative budgeting. That has meant that the school system has very slowly added programs and personnel in better financial times, but has also meant that Coweta County has not experienced severe program or employee cuts during more austere times.

The school system has also maintained high academic achievement through those periods, Bass said, with all Coweta County schools meeting state and federal academic testing requirements and school test and achievement measures well above the state average and at or above national averages.

Jackson said that financial officer Keith Chapman at the meeting also reported that school system sales tax revenues were down to a monthly collection of $1.5 million for the latest monthly collection period. The sales tax revenue is derived from the Coweta County School System’s 1-cent Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). The tax funds school construction and maintenance efforts along with other capital expenditures such as school buses and equipment, said Jackson.

Despite the decrease in monthly sales tax revenues, Chapman reported that the school system was on track to fully pay off short-term bonds that borrowed against the current 2007-2010 SPLOST and funded the construction of several schools.

“At this rate we should have enough (in collections) to fully retire our bonds by next year,” Chapman said.

Bass noted that that retiring the bonds by next year would leave the school system one and one-half years of further 1-cent tax collections to fund needed school buses and other capital improvements to county schools.

Chris P. Bacon
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"We should be able to do that without dipping into the reserves"

Coweta county can absorb three teacher furlough days without even dipping into their reserves.

Their school board was able to handle this unexpected expense through a combination of competence and wise stewardship of the public's money.

By contrast, the Fayette school board's response will most likely be to issue a press release detailing how the current situation is not their fault, and how nobody could have seen this coming....