Education funding in question

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Local educators are planning ahead for the possibility of budget cuts after last week&8217;s budget hearings about a possible $500 million cut from the state&8217;s education $6.7 billion budget for this fiscal year.

Demopolis City Schools Superintendent Wayne Vickers said the plan for his system is to work with conservative numbers and make adjustments when necessary.

The state government funds approximately 69 percent of the Demopolis City Schools&8217; budget, and the majority of those funds are marked &8220;foundation funds,&8221; which pay for basic operating costs. If these funds were to be cut, as State Superintendent Joe Morton said, the outcome for schools could be &8220;catastrophic.&8221;

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The last time proration was in effect in 2001, the state had to cut funds for things as fundamental to education as textbooks. Only recently has the state been able to fund schools at the pre-proration level.

To stave off such a move, legislators will have to decide what to do, but Vickers said he and his staff are already looking ahead and are looking to take the advice of state advisors to make sure the system is prepared for an economic downturn.

One thing the system has already done is to store up reserve funds. By law, each school system is expected to have in reserves at least a one-month operating supply of funds for just such unfortunate economic situations. According to Vickers, the Demopolis City Schools have closer to two month&8217;s operating budget.

But not all systems have been able to reach that level, causing at least 30 systems in the state to have a special meeting earlier this month to discuss financial woes. Linden City Schools, one of the state&8217;s smallest systems, was among that group to not have an adequate supply of reserve funds.

According to Interim Superintendent Scott Collier, the system has made significant progress toward that goal with only one semester of the year under their belt.

How the possible cuts would affect the Linden City School system depends on what portion of that the K-12 system is expected to absorb and what specific funding categories are cut, Collier said.

As previously mentioned, if foundation funds are among the categories of funding cut, certain basic needs could be affected. Collier said they will wait and see what the legislature does, and continue to work toward their funding goals.

As reported last week, Marengo County Schools have experienced growth, which entitles them to receive additional funds. But they, like the other two school systems in the county, get a majority of their funding from the state.

Superintendent Luke Hallmark said the outlook for this fiscal year and the next are positive, but fiscal year 2010 could be problematic.

He, like other educators, is waiting to see which funding categories could be affected before making any drastic decisions. He noted some systems opt to let go of personnel during budget crises, which is not an option he would pursue for Marengo County Schools.

Hallmark also noted the system has been consistently conservative in their budgets due to the fact they do not receive a large portion of local revenues to fund any extra programs. This kind of planning, he said, should keep the system on track.