COVINGTON - Officials at the Newton County School System are preparing for additional budget cuts from funds they previously expected to receive from the state until they hear otherwise.
According to a letter sent from Scott Austensen, deputy superintendent for Finance and Business Operations for the Georgia Department of Education, to superintendents throughout the state, local school systems could expect a 2 percent cut in K-12 education grants due to "severe reductions in state revenue."
"We anticipate if that occurs, our school system may receive an additional state cut of approximately $2 million for our share," said Deborah Robertson, associate superintendent for administration for NCSS, in her administrative services report during Tuesday's Board of Education work session. "We may experience even further cuts in anticipated revenues, approximately $4 million, if we do not receive the Homeowner's Tax Relief Grant from the state."
She said school system officials were not shocked by the letter because of "rumblings" they have previously heard, but as a result of an official statement, NCSS personnel and administrators are working together to save some money while they can do so.
"Because of this news, we have asked all school principals, supervisors and central administrators to monitor every requested expenditure carefully and to place on hold purchases that are not absolutely necessary for instruction to take place and/or absolutely necessary for the health and safety of our students," she said in her report.
She said this does not mean budgeted items cannot be expended later.
"It means we are in a crunch," she said.
Robertson said it's difficult for the school system to make many cuts because it doesn't make any extra or unnecessary programs available since it would require more personnel, which is already a bulk of its budget.
According to her report, the school system will limit optional student field trips to conserve fuel and help with the possible cuts.
The school system's transportation department also is putting on hold the purchase of about 30 replacement digital security video cameras for buses. Robertson said all new buses have digital cameras; the additional cameras were needed to switch some old buses from VCR systems to more updated systems. She said all school buses have a VCRs or digital cameras on board to monitor activity.
Robertson said the system won't know exactly how much of the expected funds it won't receive until the state notifies them of changes to the student allotment sheet.
"We know that these budget cuts will be difficult for everyone, but please know that we remain committed to assisting districts in any way possible," Austensen said in his letter. "We welcome suggestions you may have as we strive to control budgets and use resources more efficiently and effectively."
Robertson said it's possible the state could waive the maximum class size because of the cuts to help reduce the need for extra classes and personnel.
NCSS also has an ending fund balance from the previous year it can dip into if it is absolutely necessary.
School board Vice Chairman Rickie Corley suggested the school system also look into the pros and cons of a four-day school week to save on fuel costs and other costs associated with a five-day school week.
"You have to try something ... before we are forced into it," he said.
Linda Hayden, associate superintendent for curriculum at NCSS, said she doesn't know of any school systems in Georgia that have implemented the four-day school week.
Corley said states like Kentucky and South Carolina have school systems that operate on this schedule and say test scores and student morales increase and school systems have saved "hundreds of thousands of dollars" as a result.
Robertson said the curriculum department already is looking into that option and will keep the board updated on the process and if the state will even allow such a change.
Michelle Floyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org