Schools hit again by state shortfall

Published 10:53 pm Tuesday, November 25, 2008

School districts in Marengo County and throughout the state will only get 75 percent of their allotment from the state again for November, but were able to make payroll Tuesday.

State Schools Superintendent Dr. Joe Morton informed the state’s 132 school districts Monday that they would be short by 25 percent again, and he is not sure when the rest will or can be paid.

In October, school districts throughout the state only received 75 percent of what they expected from the state on time. The other 25 percent came in a week late, causing some school districts like Demopolis to go ahead and get a short-term loan to cover salaries.

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“We are still in excellent shape financially, but it still throws you a curve when they send in 75 percent of your allocations,” said Demopolis City Schools superintendent Dr. L. Wayne Vickers. “The difference this time is that they did not give us an estimated time to get the other 25 percent. Last time, we had a seven-day window when we could expect to receive the remainder. This time, they haven’t given us any anticipated time to receive it.

“They said that as soon as the revenues are there to support it, they will send it to us. So, what we have done is taken a short-term loan to meet our payroll expectations and to protect our investments without having to make changes to those.”

The Marengo County Board of Education approved two short-term loans last week, just in case it was needed for the district to pay teacher salaries in November and December.

“We were able to get by this time without a loan,” Marengo County schools superintendent Luke Hallmark said. “The problem is, however, we do not know when we will get the rest of the money. Last month, it came in a week late, but it is when it does not come in at all that there could be some problems.”

The delay in state money to local schools is caused by lower-than-expected tax revenue. It is this money that the schools use to pay faculty and staff salaries.

Linden school district teachers also received their paychecks Tuesday without any problems or the district having to seek a loan.

“We had planned for some shortages when we set the budget and are prepared to cover some loss,” said Linden superintendent Scott Collier. “Of course, we are all still waiting to see how much of a cut proration will cause.”

Asked if the measure to allot only part of the state funding were a way to ease into proration, Vickers said, “I think that what they’ve done is delay proration for so long. In the letter, it also stated that during the first week of December, Dr. Morton expects the governor to declare proration. Not only will we hopefully receive the remainder of our 25 percent, but we will also know what the proration will be from the governor. Once we know that, we will also know what we will be missing each month from our allocations. But, there is a big difference between 3- or 5-percent proration reduction each month and 25 percent.”

Once proration is declared, the state will be able to borrow more that $400 million from its Rainy Day Fund. That money must be paid back in six years.

“This board and this school system have been very pro-active at protecting the classroom and making sure we are in good financial shape,” said Vickers, “and we are.”