School board approves budget plans

COVINGTON - The new budget year for the Newton County School System doesn't begin until July, but school system officials already are attempting to be proactive in order to reduce the chances of a budget shortfall.

The Newton County Board of Education approved at its monthly meeting on Tuesday a plan proposed from NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley to develop a 2009-10 school year budget that may include a reduction in force and other cuts in expenditures that otherwise would have been made.

"We have been concerned for some time over the flow of funds from state and local revenue for next year's budget," Whatley said during Tuesday's meeting.

Although the school system has saved money through lower than expected fuel costs and other money-saving techniques this school year, he said the school system could experience an unprecedented $11.1 million or more revenue shortfall by June 30, 2010, the end of the budget year. The expected shortfall would be due to recent and anticipated state cuts, in addition to the senior tax exemption plan starting next year and a reduction in local tax revenues due to decreased spending and housing foreclosures.

In order to attempt to lessen or prevent a high budget shortfall, Whatley wants NCSS officials to begin planning now for the budget year, which is earlier than normal, to tighten the budget even more this school year.

The plan anticipates reducing $2.6 million in non-personnel related expenditures by reviewing system departmental budgets and current vacancies. Additionally, with the recent state Board of Education allowing for a elementary and middle school classroom increase of two students, it could reduce the need of a few dozen teachers; however, the system plans to open two new schools in August, Liberty Middle School and Live Oak Elementary School.

"My desire is that cuts could be made in the 2009-10 budget without having to reduce the number of employees," Whatley said in a memo to board members. "However, that would be difficult since 87 percent of the budget is allocated for employee salaries and benefits. It is also my desire that an involuntary reduction in force would not be necessary and reductions could be taken care of through attrition and through transfers to the new schools. However, realistically in this economy, I realize that to some extent an involuntary reduction in force may be likely."

Whatley said reserves could be used to help any budget shortfalls.

For the next several months, NCSS officials will review plans for the next budget year and hold discussions with administrators in order to notify current employees of any reductions in a timely manner, according to the budget planning calendar.

Whatley plans to bring a preliminary budget to the school board in April, a tentative budget in May and finalize the budget and millage rate in June in order to begin the fiscal year on July 1.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.