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RCPS hopes to keep special programs; More furlough days possible

CONYERS -- Officials with Rockdale County Public Schools hope to keep special programs like its alternative school and Early Learning Center open. More furlough days may be added to the staff calendar, but a full calendar may be in store for students next school year.

RCPS officials gave an update to the board's financial committee during a special called meeting Thursday.

RCPS Superintendent Richard Autry presented the board with a tentative budget for next school year, which begins July 1. With that, he said he was more encouraged to be able for the board to adopt a final budget before the end of June and remain on schedule and in accordance with the law.

Officials went over the budget by line item with the board and told the members they can ask questions and make any changes for the next couple of weeks.

"This is a work in progress," said Lee Davis, chief financial officer at RCPS.

The budget shows that RCPS would receive less than $500,000 in federal and grant revenues, down by more than 8 percent from last school year; about $68.7 million in state revenues, up nearly 8 percent; and about $50 million in local revenues, down more than 15 percent from last year. Proposed expenditures total more than $122 million, down from more than $125 million last school year.

The board has been considering how to make $20 million in cuts to avoid a budget shortfall for next school year due to decreasing local revenues and increases in insurance and some other areas of the budget.

School officials now are planning to have seven furlough days on the calendar for next school year for all employees to save more than $3.5 million in expenditures; last week, they were considering five days. They also are planning an additional furlough day for 12-month employees, like administrators and central office employees, for about $80,000 in savings.

"We don't want to do that, but to balance the budget, I think we're going to have to," Davis said.

School officials also hope the board will approve an increased millage rate of 1.5 mills, which will bring the millage rate to 26 mills. The legal cap is 30 mills.

"Even with the increase, we will still receive $7.4 million less than the current school year," Davis said.

Because of student growth, Davis reminded the board that it received about $1.5 million from the state this year as a midterm adjustment, so he is budgeting $600,000 for a midterm adjustment next school year.

Last week, system officials were planning to eliminate the nontraditional programs Open Campus, Alpha Academy alternative school and the Early Learning Center at the Rockdale Career Academy to save nearly $1.9 million, but now officials feel comfortable that the programs will remain, at the will of the board.

"That was a priority," Autry said.

School officials also hope the board will approve the purchase of math textbooks for kindergarten through 12th grades, which haven't been purchased in seven years. Last week, school officials also were considering deferring those purchases to save $1 million.

They also plan to have a normal 170-day calendar for students, instead of the proposed 160-day calendar with extended school hours presented last week that would have saved about $800,000.

A 10 percent central office budget reduction would remain to save about $200,000, as would the reduction of employees, although specifics weren't given at Thursday's meeting. Last week, school officials said they were considering eliminating 20 central office employees, 10 school instructional technology positions and all media clerks.

Before the end of the month, the school board is expected to meet again to develop a reduction in force plan. The school's Human Resources Department plans to meet face to face with those affected, Davis said.

"We hope we will bring you very few people on the RIF list. We hope to place any or all employees affected in vacant positions," Davis told board members.

The board also is considering increasing class size ratios to save more than $3 million and using $3 million of its fund balance.

Autry said he feels the cuts take a little from various areas, instead of a lot from one area-- the community with a millage rate increase, as well as school staff and the central office.

"It's incumbent for all of us to step up and offer what we can in situations like this," he said. "It's a way to minimize the effect on one small group -- we all take a sacrifice to get through it."

The school board plans to hold a public hearing on the budget at 6:30 p.m. June 13, and the board plans to adopt a final budget at its June 20 monthly meeting.

Although an increased millage rate is proposed with the tentative budget, the board wouldn't approve a millage rate until July or August, when final local tax figures typically are made available.