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Proposed NCSS budget cuts $8.6M

COVINGTON -- Newton County School System Superintendent Steven Whatley presented a tentative 2010-11 school year budget Tuesday that is $8.6 million less than the current year's budget.

During the Newton County Board of Education's monthly work session, Whatley proposed a $139,319,844 general fund budget, with $134,546,711 used for expenditures to operate NCSS and $4,773,133 to be held in reserve. The $134 million is $8,649,228, or 6.04 percent, less than the current school year.

Whatley said NCSS officials worked Monday and Tuesday to create the budget, as the state did not provide unofficial revenue figures until late last Thursday and provided a midterm adjustment for the current fiscal year on Monday.

The beginning fund balance will start at $5,869,074, instead of the expected $5.4 million, as a result of the state restoring an equalization grant to its full amount as part of a midterm adjustment this week.

So far, NCSS doesn't have final state figures or local revenue figures, which it hopes to obtain by the week of May 24. NCSS officials are estimating local revenues to be at $48,507,711, including the beginning balance, or 34.82 percent of the general fund budget. It expects state revenues to be at $90,812,133, or 65.18 percent of the budget.

Major expenditures in the general fund budget include $117,622,251 in salaries and benefits, which make up 87.4 percent of the budget, as well as more than $4 million for utilities and fuel, $5.7 million for repairs and maintenance, nearly $2 million in instructional textbooks and supplies, $869,387 in equipment and furniture, and nearly $4 million in other departments, such as staff development, insurance, professional services and fees.

Whatley said NCSS won't receive $11,406,298 from the state that it is calculated to receive under a QBE allotment. This is more than last year's $7,832,721 state reduction. Since 2006, NCSS has not received $29,642,889 that it should have received from the state, he said.

The budget is expected to support student enrollment between 20,244 and 21,676, compared to the approximately 19,000 now enrolled in NCSS. This includes a projection of between 9,626 and 10,536 elementary school students, between 4,783 and 5,065 middle school students and between 5,835 and 6,075 high school students.

Based on the tentative budget, NCSS expects to employ 2,578.90 school- and system-level employees, which is 167.15 employees less than this school year. This includes 2,181.40 school-level positions -- or 157.40 less than the current year -- and 397.5 system-level positions -- or 10.5 less than the current year.

Proposed cuts to school-level positions include 40.5 teachers in prekindergarten through 12th grade, 1.5 assistant principals, three counselors, three graduation coaches, three secretaries, 2.3 school food service workers, 2.75 custodians and 111.5 of 413.5 paraprofessionals, of which 24.5 already have been eliminated.

Proposed cuts to system-level positions include four of 27 central office support staff, two of eight school bus mechanics, one of seven transportation support staff, 1.5 school food services support staff, two of 53 bus monitors, two of 17 central office administrators and two part-time positions, a maintenance worker and a special education parent mentor.

After the work session and an executive session, the school board unanimously approved personnel recommendations Tuesday night that included 22 terminations due to a reduction in force. Staff members expected to be cut, effective June 2, include two counselors at the elementary level and Sharp Learning Center, a part-time elementary supplemental teacher, one pre-K teacher, two kindergarten teachers, three first-grade teachers, one second-grade teacher, four third-grade teachers, one fourth-grade teacher, three fifth-grade teachers, three special education teachers and Transportation Director Charles Brasher, whose termination is effective June 30.

Teacher contracts must be given out by Saturday.

Although Whatley is recommending that class sizes increase from the current class sizes of between 18 and 32 to between 21 and 32 to support staff cuts, some school board members don't agree.

Board member C.C. Bates said the board should keep instructional paraprofessionals and freeze class sizes in kindergarten and first grade. She said targeting early grade levels and having differentiated instruction in the classroom using paraprofessionals and teachers has proven to close the achievement gap by the time students reach third grade and beyond.

"I believe we need to look on the return on our investment," Bates said. NCSS could end up spending more in a few years to make up for lost instructional time, she said.

The proposed budget is built on the millage rate of 18.21. Whatley said he can recommend the board to increase the millage rate, but can only do so up to 20 mills, which still could provide less revenue than NCSS is receiving this school year due to anticipated home value assessment decreases of possibly up to 14 percent.

The board has not increased the millage rate since 2006, when it was increased 1 mill to its current rate.

The school board plans to adopt a tentative budget at its next meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the board room at the Newton County BOE building, located at 2109 Newton Drive in Covington.

Board members can change the presented budget up until they adopt a final version of it June 15. They also plan to set a millage rate by that time.

Whatley said the budget could change even after it's approved -- he warned how the school board passed its budget for this school year and later Gov. Sonny Perdue requested six furlough days and reduced state funding even more, in addition to lower-than-expected local funding.

"This is a tentative budget and a starting point," Whatley said. "It is my anticipation that this budget will change as we look at our needs and put them in order. Our first priority is instruction and student achievement."