Proposed school cuts to be aired Dec. 17
A Dec. 17 presentation before the Fayette County Board of Education on the findings of the school system’s cost-cutting committee is likely to contain unsettling news for many system employees and parents.
Cuts faced by the school board in coming months represent what are arguably the largest single-year cuts in the history of the school system.
But at least some of the cuts will have to be made for the 2013-2014 school year since expenses exceed revenues by $14 million in the current budget and there is no fund balance left to cushion the effects of revenues that continue to fall.
Outgoing Superintendent Jeff Bearden in a presentation in August listed a number of cost-cutting suggestions that have been reviewed by the committee. The findings related to those potential cost-cutting categories will be the presented at the Dec. 17 meeting by Assistant Superintendent Sam Sweat. There will likely be no action taken by the school board Monday night on the findings presented.
The potential cost-cutting measures suggested by Bearden in August include:
• Continue to maximize savings and efficiencies — All vacancies will be monitored and only those positions that are deemed critical to the school system’s mission will be filled. And the school system will continue to be energy efficient and cost efficient with all purchases. It is hoped that these measures during the current school year might save a few million dollars.
• Consider school closures and redistricting — Each closed school saves approximately $800,000. The work of the redistricting committee to examine the potential closure of several schools for the next school year was put on hold in the fall with the announcement that Rivers Elementary School, one of the schools on the potential closure list, has a potential buyer.
• Outsource custodial services — Anticipated savings is $1 million. Bearden in August referenced a topic that surfaced at a meeting with the Ga. Dept. of Education that dealt with outsourcing some services currently accomplished by classified school system employees such as custodians, food service, bus drivers and secretaries. Health insurance benefits for those employees are seeing large increases in cost that will continue for the next few years, Bearden said.
“(The) state benefits health plan for classified employees has increased dramatically. In fact, for this year the increase for our system is $1,800 per year, per employee,” Bearden said in August. “We will see another increase of $1,800 per year, per employee in FY 2014 and another increase of $1,800 per year, per employee in FY 2015. This is why some systems have already begun outsourcing and many are considering this option.”
• Consolidation of bus routes — No figure was given for this item. Fayette currently employs approximately 200 bus drivers though the school system receives state funds only for approximately half of those positions.
• Continue to reduce/combine county office positions through attrition — Last year county office positions were reduced and saved $380,000. Bearden with this item noted that the school system currently spends $182 per student less than the state average on general administration.
• Continue to reduce staff in all other categories through attrition, with cost savings dependent upon the number of positions reduced. Bearden said the school system currently employs 152 more positions than the state allocates, primarily teachers and counselors, adding that more than 200 certified staff positions have been reduced since FY 2007.
Bearden said Coweta County has 31 fewer positions than they are allocated through QBE and Newton County has 137 fewer positions than allocated through QBE, but Fayette County has 152 more positions than allocated by QBE.
“Fayette, because of local property tax receipts, has always been able to employ many more people than we have allocated through the state’s (QBE) funding formula,” Bearden said. “With the continued decrease in our local tax digest, the state’s inability to fully fund QBE, and our continued decrease in enrollment, our number of employees must now more closely align with our allocations.”
• Reduce the number of assistant principals to be more in line with the state funding formula for these positions. The school system currently employs 14 more assistant principals than the state allocates. The cost savings is $1.2 million.
• Additional “shut down days” — Each day saves approximately $700,000.
• Elimination of all first-grade paraprofessionals — Cost savings is $1.2 million.
• Reduce stipends for supplements. No figure was given for this item.
• Eliminate all middle school athletics — Cost savings is $210,000.
• Salary decrease for all employees. Every 1 percent reduction in salary will save $1,325,000. Bearden noted that employees who spoke at a board meeting in the spring of 2011 overwhelmingly preferred “shut down” days to percentage decreases in salary.
• Consider a tuition policy that would allow students who live outside of Fayette County to attend Fayette schools. This policy can be written to ensure specific guidelines for acceptance, and how a student could lose the privilege of attending our schools. Such a policy was proposed recently, though the measure has been put on hold.
• Consider asking citizens, through a referendum, for an increase in the current millage rate. Bearden in this cost-cutting suggestion noted that Fayette County property owners currently pay less in property taxes than they did several years ago.
Fayette since the recession began has lost a significant amount of its total property value that has resulted in large decreases in property tax revenues. Additionally, the school system has lost approximately 2,000 students during the same period. That decrease in enrollment translates into a decrease in state revenues of approximately $4,000 per student.
The school board in recent years has adopted budgets that have sliced millions off the expenditure side of the budget, though in two of the past three years those adoptions came on a 3-2 vote, with board members Marion Key and Bob Todd voting in opposition over what they believed were an insufficient number of budget reductions.
The budget for the current school year calls for spending about $177 million in local and state tax revenue but receiving only $163 million. The shortfall this year is being made up by spending almost all the system’s fund balance.
A similar imbalance in revenues versus expenditures occurred in the previous year when another $15 million in fund balance was used to balance that budget.
And for the upcoming school year that begins in July, there is essentially no fund balance to use to comply with the state requirement to adopt a balanced budget. That cash-strapped reality is the reason that Bearden recommended cuts of up to $20 million.