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News Commissioners concerned about school funding

When the Macon County Board of Commissioners met last Saturday at the Cecil Groves Building at Southwestern Community College’s Macon Campus, they talked about the county’s finances and their concerns looking ahead to this year.

One major issue, brought to the board’s attention by county manager Jack Horton, was funding for Macon County Schools (MCS). Normally, the county designates approximately 50 percent of its general fund budget to MCS, and for this fiscal year, the county budgeted about $6.7 million. However, as many citizens are well aware of, these are not “normal” economic times. Nearly two million dollars worth of federal funds used in the past several years by MCS will have dried up by the end of 2012, and with a $459 million K-12 education reduction in last year’s state budget, Macon County School Board officials may have to ask the county to ante up some more funds going into the next school year.

While there are hints of an economic recovery in the works, public school systems are still having to cope with declining resources. MCS have been dealing with diminishing funds since 2008, and have done so by using federal stimulus dollars and other federal funds. Also, school officials have had to cut back services significantly, as well as use consolidation measures to activate cost-saving strategies. For example, MCS eliminated fifty percent of its pre-K services this past fiscal year in order to save money.

“I don’t want our teachers and teacher assistants to be impacted,” said Commissioner chairman Kevin Corbin at last Saturday’s meeting. “I think we need to focus on keeping them in the classroom so we can provide for our kids,” he said. Thus far, MCS have been fortunate in that they have not eliminated any employee positions, despite the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.

Yet, according to MCS’ Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman, school board officials will have to confront a $1.4 million shortfall when they begin to construct their budget for the fiscal year 2012/13. This time around, however, school officials will not be able to fall back on federal eduJobs monies.

Presently, MCS has only $221,000 of federal eduJobs monies left, and those funds will be exhausted by the end of the 2012 fiscal year; June 30. Moreover, all of those funds must be used to support a “school based” employee, which means school administrators and school board members had little discretion in how they appropriated those particular funds. In essence, the federal eduJobs fund has helped MCS administrators keep teachers and teacher assistants in the classroom for several years. School board officials budgeted approximately $730,000 of the eduJobs fund for the current payroll expenses, preventing layoffs and offsetting state budget cuts, according to Dr. Brigman.

“We’ve been utilizing our fund balance reserves in the recent past to cover recurring costs in our budget,” said Dr. Brigman. “We have tried to consolidate our programs and services to enact appropriate cost-saving measures too, but it looks like we will be dealing with a large shortfall this year. We have and will continue to work with the board of commissioners to ensure that our 4,440 plus students receive the best education possible,” he said.

Last July, MCS had a fund balance of just over $3 million, $2.7 million of that being undesignated. Undesignated fund balance reserves are monies that can be used to fund unplanned programs, services, and/or employees. For fiscal year 2011/2012, school board officials voted to appropriate $1.5 million of undesignated fund balance reserves for the current fiscal year to keep the school system intact. School board members may have to tap the remaining fund balance monies if they are going to prevent layoffs from occurring, although it is still hard to predict what the state and federal government will do in the future.

The Macon County School Board will have a retreat on Feb. 2-3 to discuss the upcoming budget and other issues. Following their retreat, the board of commissioners will host a joint retreat with MCS board members in late February or March.


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