Coweta schools facing $14M state funding cut

$2.8M decrease expected in property tax revenue

The Coweta County Board of Education is beginning its considerations for the 2013-2014 budget that begins in July. On the horizon are increasing costs and decreasing revenues that could lead to budget reductions of millions of dollars.

The school system currently operates under a $168.5 million General Fund budget for the 2012-2013 school year that ends June 30. The budget was adopted with the use of available state and local revenues and $10.5 million in school system reserves. It is noteworthy that due to budget savings during the year and help from the state’s mid-term adjustment to school systems, Coweta is anticipating only using $2.6 million of those reserves during the current fiscal year, said school system spokesman Dean Jackson.

But the budget crunch will continue for the 2013-2014 school year. Expected decreases of approximately $14 million in state Quality Basic Education (QBE) dollars and a decrease of an anticipated $2.8 million in local property taxes will combine with what is expected to be a $4.5 million increase in some employee health benefit costs. These and other factors will be part of the budget equation facing the school board prior to the adoption of the budget in June.

The school system is expected to receive $13,926,450 less in state QBE funding beginning in July. State dollars provides approximately 55 percent of the school system’s funding, Jackson said.

Another factor in the upcoming budget is Coweta’s employer state health benefit costs for classified employees such as parapros. Those costs are projected to increase by $4.5 million through 2014-2015 when compared to 2008-2009, said Jackson. 

Yet another factor in budget talks will be a decrease in expected property tax revenues. Based on the tax rate the school board has kept at 18.59 mills since 2005, local school system funds derived from property taxes are expected to decrease by an estimated $2.8 million this year, county officials said.

Jackson said other issues facing the school system include the continued loss of more than $4 million in state funding due to changes to the state’s equalization formula and changes in the system’s relative wealth compared to other Georgia school districts, an increase in employer health insurance expenditures for certified employees such as teachers and an increase in the Teachers Retirement System rate resulting in higher employer expenditures.

Along with the decreases in state and local revenues during the past few years of recession, the school system’s employee base has decreased by 269 employees in the past four years, while school enrollment has increased by 536 students in the same period, Jackson said. 

“Despite these trends, the Coweta County School System has not reduced student instructional days and has maintained academic opportunities for students,” Jackson noted.

Superintendent Steve Barker last week said the school system continues to operate conservatively.

“I’m very proud of our employees and our students,” said Barker. “In the midst of reduced hiring, reduced spending and increased class sizes, our schools have continued to perform very well.”

Barker noted that student achievement remains high in comparison to the state and that the school system has produced a number of honors during recent years such as several Governor’s Office silver, gold and platinum schools, a national Lighthouse School and a U.S. News and World Report silver-level high school.