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BOE approves cuts to budget

COVINGTON -- The Newton County Board of Education has authorized the Newton County School System superintendent to make staff cuts to make up for an expected revenue shortfall of $9.7 million next school year and for educator contracts to not be extended until May 15.

NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley informed the school board Tuesday that if the school system maintains the same expenditures for the 2010-11 school year as it did this year -- $144,140,801 -- and does not change the millage rate, an approximate $9.7 million deficit would exist. It also would wipe out the school system's ending fund, or reserve, balance, which is generally around $10 million.

"We need an ending fund balance to be able to make it in unsure economic times," Whatley said. "We know significant cuts need to be made."

NCSS officials have determined the deficit from anticipated figures -- the beginning fund balance is expected to be $5.5 million, down from $11.3 million, the local ad valorem revenue will drop from $49.7 million to about $43 million, and state funding will drop from more than $93 million to $85.3 million. Other estimates that determine revenue will drop from more than $151.5 million to $134.5 million.

Those figures could go up or down, as the state legislators still are in session and the state's budget has not been determined, Whatley said.

He said cuts are likely to include reductions in personnel in the areas of teaching, classified, support and administrative staff and to the benefits program.

"We have been evaluating all program classifications and positions to determine the most responsible financial means by which services can be provided, yet trying to bring about additional savings to the system," Whatley said in a memo to the school board. "Cuts will be made in system-level and school-level positions, both certified and classified, and some work days will be reduced. Personnel procedures have been put in place to address downsizing by employee classification. Meetings will begin with employee groups and individuals affected by the cost savings measure."

Although professional educators in the past have been notified by April 15 if they will be offered a contract with NCSS for the following school year, this year they won't be notified until May 15, after the school board approved a change in policy with a recommendation from Whatley. Under House Bill 906, NCSS was given flexibility to move the date to May 15.

"Budget information is coming in very slowly," said Dr. Dennis Carpenter, deputy superintendent for operations at NCSS.

The board unanimously approved both recommendations regarding the budget and contracts during its work session Tuesday night.

"It isn't normal to (vote on recommendations) in work session, but these aren't normal times," Whatley said.

It's also not normal practice for the board to approve a change in policy without it being tabled for at least 30 days. However, according to Sherri Viniard, director of public relations for NCSS, the board doesn't have to table it for 30 days if it is a timely matter.