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School officials react to budget

With a 32-1 vote from the Senate and a 98-4 voted from the House, the state legislature passed a $6.36 billion education budget in special session Saturday. Gov. Bob Riley has not formally signed the budget, but has said he will approve it as voted on.

With this news comes time for local school officials to begin planning for fiscal year 2008-2009, with approximately $3.7 million less than last year.

Vickers said the system is working on priorities, one of which is to meet with school principals and determine the next step for personnel. Last month the board voted to give pink slips to six personnel, saving the system an estimated $450,000.

In coming weeks, when more specific numbers become available to individual systems, more definite plans will be made.

For Linden City Schools superintendent Scott Collier, the news about the budget is a &8220;relief.&8221; Collier said their focus, too, is on teachers.

According to Marengo County Schools Superintendent Luke Hallmark, planning is key, with so much of their budget relying on both state and federal funds.

The budget prospects leave Hallmark, too, with the need to look at more personnel changes.

The budget approved over the weekend is much like the one Gov. Bob Riley recommended to lawmakers in February. It cuts K-12 schools by only 3 percent, while higher education takes a larger cut. The budget cuts two-year colleges 8 percent, and universities by 11 percent.

Despite cuts to most programs, the budget expands four programs advocated by the governor and school superintendent: pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds; the Alabama Reading Initiative; the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative; and distance learning programs that allow a teacher in one location to offer classes in several locations.

But one troubling part of the budget for some lawmakers is the potential for proration.

The budget spends every dollar that the governor&8217;s fiscal advisers predict the state will receive and $121 million more than the Legislature&8217;s fiscal staff forecasts. The governor has already had to take $350 million out of a state &8220;rainy day&8221; fund to balance this year&8217;s budget.

Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, said it&8217;s impossible to predict if the new budget will go into the red and require the governor to dip into the reserve again.

Associated Press Writer Phillip Rawls contributed to this story.