Mathews says cuts could be less

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

COVINGTON -- Newton County schools might be closed this week, but that doesn't mean the superintendent hasn't stopped worrying about the upcoming budget year.

Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews said he found some good news this week, among all the snow, ice and school cancellations.

"Governor Nathan Deal's 2011 State of the State Address sounded an unexpected positive note related to his priorities and intention for K-12 funding in Georgia," Mathews said Wednesday in an e-mail to staff. "While much is to be sorted out, it may be that state cuts to our local NCSS budget will not materialize as earlier anticipated."

In November, Mathews said that NCSS could face a $9 million to $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.

He said at the time that state cuts could range from 2 to 4 percent, or from $1.8 million to $3.6 million, and a decreased student enrollment 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.

Federal grant contributions of nearly $2 million also will expire; it previously paid for some teachers, paraprofessionals and other personnel this school year.

Mathews was set to release a list of possible budget reductions Monday after meeting with principals and central office administrators, but that announcement has been postponed due to school cancellations this week.

Now the final list may not have to be as long.

"The NCSS administration will be looking and listening for other interpretations of the governor's message to state lawmakers," Mathews said this week. "And, while we still anticipate cuts to the NCSS budget given significantly less revenue from the county and the federal government, it may be that we're able to revise our budget reduction target downward."

In his 2011 State of the State Address, Deal proposed revenue shortfall reserve appropriations for public education, making funding for public education a top priority, ending teacher furlough days, keeping students in school for a full school year and preserving the HOPE program.

"I certainly hope that Georgia legislators will be sympathetic to the governor's priority related to K-12 education in our state. It certainly appears to be a most positive and unexpected development," Mathews said. "Interestingly enough, just three weeks or so ago, Gov. Deal suggested that K-12 educators 'should brace themselves for drastic cuts.' ... At this time, whatever eventually happens at the state level, we do anticipate significantly less local and federal revenue. Stay tuned."

A public forum that was scheduled for Thursday at Alcovy High School also will be rescheduled due to school cancellations.

Later this month, school principals will survey school councils, which generally are made up of business leaders, parents and employees. They will rank the list of potential cuts and try to reach a consensus on particular items. A PTO round-table discussion also is expected to be held this month.

A survey also will be placed on the NCSS Web site, www.newtoncountyschools.org, to gain input from the public about budget items and suggestions.

From there, the superintendent and his executive leadership team will consider items and make a list of tentative cuts, Mathews has said. He expects to present a proposal to the school board in February or March for the board to consider until April. The board is expected to approve a tentative budget in May and a final budget in June; school systems in Georgia have until May 15 to extend contracts to teachers.