Turner wants to look at returning funds to employees

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

COVINGTON -- Although final figures aren't available yet, some members of the Newton County Board of Education already are thinking about what they could do with additional expected funds for next school year.

Earlier this month, the Newton County tax office announced that there may be a less-than-expected loss in the tax digest, so governmental entities might not experience as much of a loss as originally expected. However, officials warned that some large tax appraisal appeals still are pending.

The Newton County School System could end up with $2.1 to $2.4 million more than originally expected, according to NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews. NCSS is currently budgeting local revenues for next school year at $49,827,256, including a beginning fund balance of $11 million, or nearly 36 percent of the budget.

Earlier this month, Mathews said that he doesn't want to plan for any extra spending at this time because of the uncertainty, and even if NCSS does receive more than $2 million, he felt more comfortable saving that money to cover an expected budget shortfall for the 2012-13 school year if revenues failed to pick up.

During Tuesday's monthly school board meeting, board Chair Almond Turner suggested another option -- he wants to look into using part of it to add back school days to the calendar or add to employee retirement funds.

Next school year, students will attend school for 178 days and staff for 184 days, thus resulting in six furlough days for staff, which is consistent with the past two school years. Also next year, the board contribution to the 403(b) retirement plan for Teachers Retirement System employees was reduced 1 percent to 0.5 percent for $422,000 in savings.

Other major staff cuts include 47 teacher positions at the high school level being reduced due to a change in high school scheduling, more than 40 bus drivers and dozens of other transportation staff due to a change in bell schedules and bus routes and about 50 staff at Sharp Learning Center that will dissolve and be outsourced with the development of an Ombudsman alternative school program.

"I feel we have a lot of dedicated employees," Turner said. "We've taken a lot from them. ... They've been so patient with us with all of these cuts."

Some other board members agreed to look into options but were hesitant about making any promises to employees.

"We've got to know the count first before we start to divvy it up," said board member Eddie Johnson. "It's too early."

Fellow member Shakila Henderson Baker agreed.

"It might be wise to wait and hold that money," she said.

Mathews said that NCSS could bring some options to the school board once the numbers are finalized, but he still felt more comfortable retaining the money to save for the 2012-13 school year.

After saving about $11 million this year as an ending fund balance, next year's ending fund balance is expected to be about $7.5 million and the 2012-13 school year's balance would be about $2.5 million if all revenues and expenditures remain the same. The following school year could see a deficit of more than $2.3 million if the same holds true.

Mathews has said if that were to happen, the school board would have to cut nearly $7 million from the budget that year to maintain a minimalist fund balance of under $5 million. Systems in Georgia are asked to maintain at least 7 percent of its budget in reserves, and they cannot operate with a negative fund balance.

"I feel we're talking about three years away to sit on the money," Turner said during Tuesday's meeting. "We need to do something to let our employees know we appreciate them -- they could have gone somewhere else. We owe it to them to look at options."

"Let's hope for a whole bunch (of money)," Mathews said.