Senate to school systems: absorb employee furlough days


The Georgia Senate late Friday passed a bill that prevents school systems with more than six percent of their operations budget in a reserve funds account from imposing additional furlough days on school system employees prior to June 30. But for schools systems like Fayette County the law, if enacted, may not apply since the Fayette School System does not maintain an officially designated reserve account.

Sponsored by Sen. Preston Smith (R-Rome) and co-sponsored by Senate Finance Chairman Ronnie Chance (R-Tyrone), the Educator’s Salary Protection Act, Senate Bill 515, passed on a vote of 35-11. The measure will now move to the Georgia House.

The proposal prevents a school system with more than six percent funding in its reserve accounts from furloughing employees when funding is readily available to prevent those furloughs, Chance said.

Chance said the state has exhausted its reserve account of almost $1.8 billion over the last two years. Most of the reserve funding went to education spending, he said. Meantime, state revenues have decreased 27 percent, he added.

Chance said school systems statewide have a total of $1.2 billion in reserved funds accounts in which those funds are unencumbered. But in the case of the state, said Chance, Georgia no rainy day funds remaining.

“Georgia’s teachers are one of our most valuable resources; day in and day out they help mold our children into the bright young adults that will become our next generation of company owners, innovators, and even educators,” said Chance. “I am encouraged by the actions of my fellow legislators in passing SB 515. The Senate has demonstrated that we value the role of educators in our community and we will work diligently to protect their pockets in a down economy.”

Specific to Fayette County, the school system began the 2009-2010 year with a budget totaling $185.5 million. And while the school system has no specified reserve fund account, it did carry over a $4.5 million surplus from the previous year and, as of mid-March, anticipates ending the school year June 30 with an additional $8.15 million surplus, for a total of $12.659 million.

Six percent Fayette’s $185.5 million beginning July 1 budget totals $11.13 million. The amended budget now sitting at $179.3 million would carry a threshold of $10.76 million.

The situation in Coweta County, at least in terms of reserve funds, is markedly different. Coweta School Board members last month said the school system would absorb up to three upcoming furlough days if state funding for those days was withheld. Coweta currently has more than $22 million in its reserve funds account.

Fayette School Board members earlier this month said they would wait until April to determine whether to absorb the anticipated furlough days for all school system employees or to impose the furloughs in order to have a larger surplus amount for additional cuts expected for the coming school year beginning July 1.

Education spending in Georgia increased 34 percent between 2004 and 2010, Chance said. The FY 2004 budget included $8.59 billion for education spending. The FY 2010 General Budget contained $11.47 billion for education spending, he said.