Potential Fayette BoE cuts: 220 staffers, 4 schools


On the chopping block: 100 teachers and other certified positions, 100 parapros; Brooks and Tyrone Elem. may close; board trying to deal with $15 million budget shortfall

A preliminary proposal for the historic budget cuts for the Fayette County School System that will take effect in July were presented at a Jan. 18 called meeting of the Fayette County Board of Education.

The initial proposal calls for cutting more than 220 employees across the system for a savings of more than $11 million and the closure of four schools for a savings of more than $3 million.

With a call for cuts totaling $15.1 million, the school board is expected to commit to the reductions no later than April.

The vast majority of cuts will come in personnel since 90.1 percent of the school system’s budget in personnel-related.

The current budget has 350 positions funded exclusively by Fayette County taxpayers that carry a price tag of $16.67 million.

Those include 117 parapros at $2.925 million, 14.5 counselors at $1.09 million, 14.5 assistant principals at $1.3 million, 49 secretaries at $1.23 million and 150 teachers at $9.75 million.

Middle school athletics comes with a price tag of $250,000 while five parking lot attendants cost $125,000, with parking fees helping defray that cost.

Though the final decision by the school board may vary, the list of potential budget reductions presented by assistant superintendent of business and personnel management Tom Gray called for eliminating 100 certified positions that includes assistant principals, teachers, counselors and other staff such as art and music teachers. If implemented, those cuts would save $7.25 million in salaries and benefits.

Also up for a reduction to the tune of approximately $1 million are a number of the positions in central office. Some of the cost-savings for next year are already being realized since some of the positions have been vacated and are not being filled, while other positions are being consolidated. Still other positions are currently under review for consolidation or elimination.

Another potential cut would see the reduction of 100 parapros for a savings of $2.5 million and a reduction of 10 secretaries at $200,000.

Other potential budget cuts include outsourcing the services of the school system’s 152 custodians for a savings of $500,000, reducing supplements and extended day contracts to save $400,000, eliminating middle school athletics at $250,000 and eliminating parking lot attendants at the five high schools for a savings of $125,000.

If approved by the school board the budget savings, combined with ongoing cost-saving measures from not filling some vacated positions, will provide a projected fund balance on June 30, 2014 that totals $5.8 million.

Interim Superintendent Dan Colwell said the specific numbers will be ready in time for the school board’s regular meeting in March or shortly thereafter. And while the board will not adopt the 2013-2014 budget until June, Colwell said he will be recommending that the school board render a decision by April so affected employees can be notified and so that needed preparations for the next school year can get underway.

As for the potential school closures, Colwell after the meeting identified the four schools as Fayette Middle School, Brooks Elementary, Tyrone Elementary and Fayetteville Intermediate (FIS).

If closed beginning in July the savings would amount to approximately $800,000 each, with the bulk of the savings coming in personnel.

The reconstituted redistricting committee will make an initial presentation on Jan. 28 followed by public hearings and a school board decision in March.

The need for the historic budget cuts was essentially echoed in comments Jan. 18 by Ga. Dept. of Education Deputy Superintendent for Business and Finance Scott Austensen, a Fayette County resident with children in Fayette schools.

Austensen noted that while there may be little change in Gov. Nathan Deal’s budget, healthcare costs for non-teaching employees will increase. Those costs will add another $1.5 million to the school system in the 2013-2014 school year and an additional $1.5 million the following year.

Austensen also reviewed Fayette’s falling student enrollment and the resulting decrease in state dollars that have combined with falling property tax revenues to generate millions less in school system revenue in recent years. This year and last, the budget was balanced by using fund balance that is now essentially depleted.

Without sufficient cuts, Austensen said Fayette’s fund balance will go negative in the 2013-2014 school year.

“It’s illegal to operate in a deficit unless you have a remediation plan,” Austensen said of the precarious position Fayette would find itself in if necessary cuts are not made to the budget.

School systems in such shape are required to submit a deficit reduction plan to the state, submit a monthly financial report to the Ga. Dept. of Education and advertise a statement of actual monthly operations in the local newspaper.

And pertaining to class sizes and the number of schools, Austensen said the school system currently has an excess of 354 classrooms in its 28 schools. Based on current trends the system will have 545 excess classrooms in five years, he added.

With approximately 20,400 students today, Fayette’s student enrollment is back to where it was more than a decade ago. A problem associated with enrollment is that it is projected to continue to fall.

Deputy Superintendent Sam Sweat recently projected that Fayette schools will lose another 530 students next year. That assessment is in line with a 2011 University of Georgia study that projected Fayette losing 1,650 students between 2012 and 2021. Meantime, Fayette County has opened five schools since 2002.

The problem with school system finances that will require historic cuts is two-fold. The first involves the budget cuts made over the past few years. While millions were cut, those sums were not sufficient to keep up with plummeting revenues.

The second involves falling revenues that come from two sources. One source involves the large decreases in student enrollment that resulted in a decrease of millions of state dollars coming to Fayette County. The other pertains to additional millions of dollars lost due to falling local property values brought on by the recession.

“We can’t kick the can down the road anymore,” board Chairman Marion Key said on Jan. 18.

Without making what will amount to historic budget cuts the school board will find itself in violation of state law by being unable to adopt a balanced budget, an eventuality that would throw Fayette into the unenviable category shared by a small handful of deficit-spending school systems referenced by Austensen minutes earlier.

The school board in recent years has adopted budgets that have sliced millions off the expenditure side of the budget, though in two of the past three years those adoptions came on 3-2 votes, with board members Key and Bob Todd voting in opposition over what they believed were an insufficient number of budget reductions.

The budget for the current school year calls for spending about $177 million but receiving only $163 million in tax revenue.

The shortfall this year is being made up by spending almost all of the system’s fund balance.

A similar imbalance in revenues versus expenditures occurred in the previous year when another $15 million in fund balance was used to balance that budget.

Those days will come to an end with the adoption of the 2013-2014 budget because, for the first time in several years, expenses will equal revenue.