Hallmark plans 10-point plan to help schools

Published 10:45 pm Thursday, December 18, 2008

It is inevitable that Marengo County schools will be facing cuts when students return to school in January, but what form they will take is still being decided.

Luke Hallmark, Marengo County schools superintendent told school board members Thursday that he is trying to develop a plan to see the district through the tight financial constraints with minimal impact to jobs.

“I talked to Frank Stegall (Hale County’s schools superintendent) and we are coming up with a ten point plan to cut money without losing personel. We are looking at maintenance, transportation — every item we can to save money,” said Hallmark. “If we lose any personnel, the last people we want to lose are our teachers. If we have to get down to one janitor and one aide, we will. But, we want to keep our teachers. They are the ones who educate our kids.”

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Gov. Bob Riley announced on Monday a 12.5-percent proration rate for the school year, brought down to 9 percent after using $218 million from the Rainy Day Fund, approved by voters last month as a stopgap measure, should proration be declared.

This marks the eighth time since 1980 that Alabama has declared proration, the process of cutting spending when revenues fall short of expectations.

Hallmark said the district usually receives about $9.8 million from the state each month.

“Out of that, the state plans to cut $810,000 of it,” he said. “A lot of it goes towards salaries which can not be cut because these employees are under contract.”

Hallmark said the contracts, which were approved before the school year started using budget estimates from the state, have to be honored.

“When the state falls short, it puts it back in our laps to fulfill these commitments and we have to pull funds from other areas,” said Hallmark. “When it comes to maintenance, if it doesn’t have anything to do with electricity, roofing or pipes, then we will have to do without.

“I don’t want to panic, but we have to be prepared,” Hallmark added. “I think we all were ready for a windstorm, but we’ve been hit with a hurricane. We just have to weather it out.”

The proration was a part of an overall deficit prevention plan announced by Riley on Monday that included a hiring freeze on state workers, a freeze on state employee merit pay raises and stopping the purchase of new state vehicles.

Riley also reduced state spending by 10 percent for those state agencies operating out of the general fund, cutting about $200 million.

In other business,

The Marengo County School Board passed a resolution congratulating Sweet Water High School’s football team for winning the state championship. Hallmark told the board he received a letter from Speake’s principal congratulating the team and commending them for their exceptional conduct on and off the field. Sweet Water defeated Speake in Birmingham to win the title.

The school board also approved changing the school calendar. Hallmark explained that because Sweet Water took Dec. 5 off from school so its students could attend the state championship game. They will make that day up on Feb. 16 when the rest of the counties will be off for President’s Day