A big ‘if’ looming for local schools

As it stands now, and if nothing changes between now and then, the Fayette County School System will end the fiscal year June 30 with a fund balance of approximately $6.87 million. But that’s a big “if,” considering the state of the Georgia economy.

A financial report Dec. 14 by Comptroller Laura Brock to members of the Fayette County Board of Education showed that the July 1, 2009 fund balance of $4.509 million paired with a projected $2.358 million surplus for the current fiscal year would amount to a projected end-of-fiscal-year balance of $6,868,131.
“Overall we’re doing well. The $2.3 million could be used for the state cuts we’re expecting,” Brock said, adding a comment concerning the continuous rumors about upcoming state-imposed cuts. “You hear so many things it’s sometimes better to stop listening.”
Numerous cost-cutting measures across the Fayette system last year enabled the district to end the year June 30 a total of $4.509 million in the black. Paired with continued budget-saving measures this year, provided there are no surprises, the school system should end the year well into the black.
But here’s the rub. Not overlooked by anyone keeping up with the effects of the recession in Georgia is the fact that variables like unemployment and foreclosures are up and tax revenues are down.
That point was made clear by Sen. Mitch Seabaugh in a meeting with Coweta County school teachers a few weeks ago when he presented data from the Senate Budget and Evaluation Office (BEO) showing that revenues statewide in mid-November were down 7.2 percent, a far cry from the 1.95 percent increase in Gov. Sonny Perdue’s initial estimate.
That reality, said Seabaugh, translates into a task for legislators in January when they will have to cut $348 million from the current budget that ends June 30. That figure is in addition to the cuts to various state departments already made this year.
While no one is openly talking about cuts in any specific department, another budget reality is 58.2 percent of the state budget goes for education. And while Fayette teachers took a pay cut hit last school year and school system employees are taking furlough days, the situation for other state employees is generally worse.
The Georgia Dept. of Education under the current budget took a 3 percent hit from legislators, but compared to the other state departments they fared relatively well.
BEO figures showed that the Dept. of Transportation was cut 17.81 percent, the Dept. of Economic Development was cut 16.25 percent and the Dept. of Community Affairs saw a 73.21 percent cut.
Other budget reductions came in the form of an 11.20 percent cut to Veteran’s Services, 14.95 percent to Public Safety, 14.95 percent to the Dept. of Labor, 15.02 percent to the Governor’s office and 10.67 percent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Meanwhile, Georgia State University economist Dr. Rajiv Daiwan recently forecasted an 11 percent state unemployment rate in 2010, a decline in personal income of 1 percent in 2009 and an increase of .04 percent in 2010.
The coming session of the General Assembly that begins in January will tell the tale in terms of nearly $350 million lagging state revenues and how and where legislators will make up the difference.

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