Budget outlook grim for next school year

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- It will be another rough budget year for schools next school year if financial predictions hold true, according to officials at the Newton County School System.

Officials announced this week that NCSS could face a $15 million revenue loss and a $4.6 million budget deficit for the 2011-12 school year, which will run from July 2011 to June 2012.

NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews said to a crowd of educators and other educational stakeholders at his first Community Leadership Forum on Tuesday morning that with 88 percent of the school system's expenditures in personnel, that is likely where most of the cuts will come from for next school year.

"This is where we are," he said, adding that he has been part of four major financial cuts during his nearly 20 years as a superintendent in Texas and Virginia. "Heartache comes from so many people. It's daunting for everyone."

He said in a financial update that he sent to staff on Tuesday morning that state cuts could range from 2 to 4 percent, or from $1.8 to $3.6 million, and a decreased student enrollment due to families moving away due to foreclosures could cost NCSS another $1.2 million in state funds.

Locally, the tax digest is predicted to decrease another 15 percent, which could cost NCSS another $6.5 million in revenue.

Mathews said that federal grant contributions of nearly $2 million also will expire; the grants previously paid for some teachers, paraprofessionals and other personnel this school year.

"I'm trying to get out there in front of this ... so we can act early," he said.

With adding a projected $400,000 in expenses for the opening of the Newton College & Career Academy in January 2012 and if all other revenues and expenditures remain the same, NCSS could face a budget deficit of $4.6 million at the end of the 2011-12 school year, Mathews said.

"We have to fill that hole," he said, adding that NCSS is expecting to cut at least $9 million so it will have just a $4.4 million reserve fund balance that is needed for operating expenses and to carry over the following school year. "That is daunting, especially when you think this district made $8 million in cuts for the current school year."

This school year, local revenues are expected to equal $44.8 million, state revenues nearly $93.4 million, federal revenues total more than $27 million and food service sales were budgeted at $2.5 million. Budgeted expenditures include nearly $109 million for instruction, nearly $6 million for instructional support services, about $10 million for administration, more than $13 million for maintenance and operations, nearly $8 million for student transportation, about $1.7 million for support services and more than $9 million for food services.

Mathews said he welcomed any public input and would notify employees and other educational stakeholders if the budget outlook changes.

"I have learned to be more transparent than hold back on things that I know," he said Tuesday morning.

He also encouraged residents to contact their legislators to tell them how important it is for them to make education a priority even with the state facing more bleak financial news this year.

"The kids are our future," Mathews said.