Coweta BoE adopts tentative FY 2012 budget

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The Coweta County School System’s budget for the FY 2011-2012 school year that begins July 1 was tentatively set May 23. Board of Education members are expected to approve the $165.5 million General Fund budget on June 14. That figure represents a decrease of $200,000 over the current budget and a drop of $6.7 million from FY 2009-2010. The school board continues to weather the recession, maintaining $18 million in the reserve account.

The board in its tentative approval set an operational budget of $165,483,455 for the school year that begins July 1 and extends through June 30, 2012. Like school boards across Georgia and the nation, the Coweta County Board of Education based the budget on expected on revenue estimates including anticipated funding from the Georgia Dept. of Education and the Coweta County tax digest, said school system spokesperson Dean Jackson.

 That said, the FY 2011-2012 budget will not differ substantially from the Coweta County School System’s FY 2009-2011 operational budget, Jackson said, adding that no reductions in K-12 academic offerings are expected. 

Though the school year for students will stay at 180 days, the budget continues a calendar that reduces the work-year by three days for all employees working over 180 days.

Jackson said the FY 2011-2012 budget is approximately $200,000 less than the $165.7 million operational budget adopted last year and $6.7 million less than the $172.2 million operational budget for FY 2009-2010.

The reductions came as a result of state cuts fueled by decreasing state revenue collections and, similarly, because of decreases in Coweta County’s tax digest. Both those funding variables are a direct result of the continuing recession that has exerted a heavier toll on local and state economies than many in Washington or on Wall Street would often like to admit.

Perhaps just as significant to most Coweta property owners, the tentative FY 2012 budget also keeps property tax rates at the current 18.59 mills. The tentative budget anticipates a 5 percent reduction in the Coweta County tax digest, resulting in $3,032,884 in revenue decreases from the current fiscal year, said Jackson. The Coweta County Tax Assessor is predicting a 4-5 percent decrease in the tax digest, but school system financial planners tend to be more conservative and have projected a 5 percent reduction in the county’s worth to be on the safe side, Jackson said. 

Jackson said the budget also anticipates a further net decrease of $843,179 in revenues resulting from state austerity cuts and an elimination of federal ARRA dollars. Funding from savings during the current fiscal year and operational reserves are used to cover those revenue shortfalls, increased costs for diesel fuel and other costs, Jackson said.

The FY 2012 school system budget tentatively approved Monday includes a General Fund budget of $165,483,455. Funded primarily through local property taxes and state funds reflects a decrease from the school system’s General Fund budgets of $165,674,469 adopted in June, 2010, $172,206,757 adopted in June, 2009, and $175,931,581, adopted in June, 2008, Jackson said. 

The General Fund includes the largest portion of funding for instruction and pupil services, maintenance and operation of schools, transportation, and other operational costs, Jackson added.

While it might not matter to many in times of plenty when the tax digest is growing and the local economy is booming, it is in the times of economic drought that a reserve account is particularly important to a school system that must rely on state and local tax revenues for its survival. And when it comes to reserves Coweta is in better shape than many of its neighboring school systems.

Jackson said the school system is currently at about $21.5 million in actual operational reserves, not including $8.5 million in non-operational cash reserves, which includes workers compensation, unemployment and After-School Program reserves, said Jackson.

“The school system, as in past years, will work to keep spending under budget,” Jackson said. “The FY 2011-2012 budget as set, however, would preserve approximately $18 million in reserves.”

In addition to the $165.5 million General Fund, there were three other components tentatively approved by the board this week as a part of the overall total FY 2011-2012 budget. Those include Special Revenue, Capital Projects and ESPLOST (Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funds.

Jackson said Special Revenue at $24,141,317 accounts for state and federal funding sent to special federal programs such as Title I, federal lunch programs, and IDEA.

At $41,147,795, Capital Projects covers the cost of construction and other capital expenditures during the year, said Jackson. The fund reflects school construction and improvement projects during the upcoming year. School construction and debt service are funded principally by ESPLOST funds and some state funding for construction.

Debt Service payments are made from ESPLOST collections already on-hand and set aside specifically towards short-term (five-year) bonds issued for construction projects under the current one-cent SPLOST. Debt service for FY 2011-2012 was set at $9,731,432, Jackson said.

Those funds, combined with operations funds, total $238,503,999.

If adopted in a final vote on June 14, the budget will take effect on July 1.