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News Education Macon County Schools braces for shortfall

Dr. Dan BrigmanSchool Board discusses budget for next year.

In anticipation of continued funding cuts to public education next school year, the Macon County Board of Education spent much of their annual planning retreat discussing the 2012/13 budget.

During their meeting, which was held Feb. 2 and 3 at the Boiler Room, members of the Board of Education reevaluated the school system’s annual goals in order to revise them as the district’s needs required. While school system officials revisited the school’s strategic plan and received summaries on to-date operations from individual departments, generally the conversation kept finding its way back to money.

Despite drastic cuts to the public education budget on both the state and federal level, Macon County is one of the few, if not the only, county in the state that has not had to lay off a single employee. The district has been able to keep every position because of the careful planning and budgeting done by the central office staff.

Angie Cook, finance director for Macon County schools, has worked diligently to conserve the district’s funds to make sure that all expenditures are necessary and priority- based in order to keep Macon County schools afloat during harsh economic times.

“We began July 1, 2011 with a fund balance of $3,029,322 and had $262,742 of that designated for programs like VIP, More at Four and Summer Edventure Camp, leaving the undesignated fund balance at $2,766,580,” said Cook. “We appropriated $1.5 million of the undesignated funds for the 11/12 budget, leaving us with $1,266,580 in the fund balance going into next year.”

This year, the school system had to return $1.26 million of its $24.77 million allocation due to a state mandated reversion.

According to Cook, the original allocation already reflected budget cuts which affected programs such as driver’s education. To compensate for the 5 percent reversion, Macon County reconfigured the budget and “traded in” 19 teaching position salaries, 12 months of employment in School Building administration, $80,000 in teacher assistant funding and the remainder in At-Risk funds (069). According to Cook, “that does not mean eliminating 19 positions, that means cashing in the positions.” The positions that were “cashed in” to meet the reversion amount were paid for out of local funds.

Along with the driver’s education program, another program that is being cut is the More at Four programs. The program remains at Cartoogechaye, but is no longer being offered at Macon Middle; 18 students will be affected at Macon Middle due to the cut. Earlier this year, Superintendent Dr. Brigman said, “This is another one of the casualties from the General Assembly that public education has experienced this year. The More at Four Programs are often considered great equalizers in closing the opportunity gap; it gives kids experience before they get to us in kindergarten.”

Next year, Macon County is anticipating an increase in the reversion and is planning for $1.4 million, said Cook. With the district's financial burden continuing to shift to local funds, the central office staff is bracing for shortfalls in two major areas, which will no longer be covered in state funds and will have to be picked up on the local level.

“The two main areas of concern for next year are a $406,569 shortfall in Central Office Administration, and funding for non-instructional support for the district,” said Cook. “At this time we have 57 teachers being paid from local funds, along with all maintenance workers (13) and 20 percent of the transportation (bus garage) employees coming from local funding, as well as all utilities and maintenance.”

To make up for the budget cuts, the school system anticipates utilizing the fund balance as much as possible to avoid having to cut positions or programs. Board members voiced their concern of having to rely on the fund balance early on, and noted that over the next few years the budget cuts could worsen and that the fund balance should be reserved as a last resort down the road. “That makes me very nervous,” said Board member Jim Breedlove. “I don’t think our outlook next year is going to be any better than this year.”

The school system’s fund balance acts as a sort of “savings account” for the district. It is built on money left over each year after all expenditures for the year are paid for. “We have tried the past few years to make sure we kept an adequate fund balance “just in case” as one hopefully would with their own individual financial resources,” said Cook.

Breedlove noted that in the past, Dr. Brigam has been scrutinized for building up a fund balance just for the sake of having one. He commended the Superintendent for preparing for the future and noted that he would not want to be on the Board of Education without having the comfort of the fund balance because the school system’s financial sustainability would be uncertain. He directed Cook and Dr. Brigman to identify ways to reserve, and even continue to build the fund balance by the end of this school year in order to prepare for the coming year.

County pitching in

When preparing the school system’s annual budget, Cook solicited maintenance requests from each school to be considered for the district's capital outlay fund, which is supplied by the county each year. This year, Macon County received $250,000 from the county for line item projects. All of the monies provided by the county were allocated for specific projects, like new boilers for Highlands school.

During a Joint Facilities Review committee between members of the Board of Education and County Commissioners, County Commissioner Chairman Kevin Corbin informed members of the Board of Education that the school board could anticipate receiving around the same amount from the county for next school year as they did this year. “I don’t see us being able to increase the amount next year,” said Corbin. “You should prioritize a list of requests and get it to us as soon as possible so we can have it to look at when we start our budget process for next year.”

The Joint Facilities Review committee in comprised of two Board of Education Members, Tommy Cabe and Tommy Baldwin, as well as Dr. Brigman, Angie Cook, Karen Norton, & David Curtis. The committee also includes County Manager Jack Horton and County Commissioners Ronnie Beale and Kevin Corbin, as well as County Finance Officer Lori Hall, County Employee Terry Bell, and Architect Mike Watson as well as Iotla Valley Principal Gary Brown.

Without a formal list to present to the county yet, Dr. Brigman discussed with the committee a few projects the school plans to ask the county for help with. Brigman cited projects that need to be addressed as soon as possible, like the heating and air ducts at several of the schools in the district, as well as much needed repairs to Union Academy.

Commissioner Ronnie Beale added that if the school system plans to keep Union Academy open after the new Iotla school opens next year, several repairs need to be made.


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