NCSS to learn more budget details

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- Officials in the Newton County School System are expecting to know more later this month about its budget woes.

Currently, the Newton County Board of Education has made about $8 million in cuts to the next school year's budget in anticipation of receiving $3.1 million less in state revenues, nearly $2 million less from the federal government and $6.5 million less in local tax revenue.

NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews said Thursday that after the Georgia General Assembly ends its legislative session on April 14 or sooner, then officials should know if the cuts were enough.

"From my standpoint as superintendent, as I've indicated previously, whatever we do, we must do with eyes wide open anticipating the not-too-distant future," he said in an email to staff.

He said he plans to look again with school board members at budget expectations for the next few school years.

"With the economy improving at its current slow pace, and with Newton County particularly negatively impacted by foreclosures and bankruptcies, the budget hole in the aftermath of the Great Recession is a deep one," he said. "So even as we dig ourselves out, we have a deep, deep hole to overcome."

He also warned of inevitable cuts to the prekindergarten program. The state has reduced pre-K programs from 180 days to 160 days.

"That's a lot of lost instruction for these young ones -- a lot of school readiness gone by the wayside," Mathews said.

He estimates it would cost NCSS $185,000 or more to recoup the days lost, and he hopes to recapture that time.

"Our school system demographics certainly point to a much-needed full academic year for these youngest and most vulnerable learners who enter our schools," he said. "Whenever we ultimately conclude what the real cost to recapture a full academic year of pre-K in NCSS is or when we have a pretty good idea of what we're dealing with on this topic, the administration will make a recommendation for the board to consider (recovering the days)."

Mathews said he understands that might make some staff members and parents uncomfortable, given the fact that other revenue loss is expected.

"We have but little choice," he said.

NCSS must issue teacher contracts no later than May 15, according to state regulations. Mathews said NCSS will meet that deadline and maybe earlier, but he will not recommend to issue contracts until NCSS has a better understanding on budgetary matters later this month.

"I do not believe we will lose any competitive advantage by taking our time and carefully determining contract issuance in light of our reduction in force," he said, adding that several neighboring counties are making big cuts and haven't yet issued contracts either.