Programs in county schools in jeopardy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 19, 2000

Staff Writer

Programs in the Pike County Schools could be in danger.

The county school system will be operating with a deficit budget for the upcoming fiscal year and could face cuts in programs, such as spring sports, if more money doesn’t find its way into the system’s coffers.

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This past Monday, the Pike County BOE approved the negative $261,000 budget.

Pike County Schools Superintendent John Key said he has no choice but to submit a deficit budget to the State Department of Education, action that would normally result in takeover.

The system’s life saver is the unfortunate fact other school systems are experiencing the same. Legally, a deficit budget can not be submitted except in a year of proration.

"We’re in dire straits," Key said, adding next year is expected to be even worse.

As it stands, now, the system has already made cuts by laying off personnel. Key said the system is only 2.9 teacher units above what the state gives. Two of those are ROTC instructors provided by a match with the Armed Forces.

Other cuts made during the past few years have included an estimated $600,000 in maintenance and more than $100,000 at the central office.

Still, the system is in "a bad financial position," Key said, adding the system will have to turn to financial institutions in order to survive the upcoming school year and beyond.

"We’ll wind up borrowing no less than $300,000 to make payroll," Key said.

The "most critical area" of need is transportation, Key said.

"Quite literally, we don’t have enough money to buy the diesel fuel or pay bus drivers, so we’re going to have to borrow."

Part of the problems stem from a continual decrease in student population, which has dropped by almost 1,000 in the past 10 to 15 years, Key said. That decrease translates into losses in funding from the state that is based on pupils.

Another hit has been a drop in sales tax receipts.

"The bottom line is we’ve been cut more than $500,000 in this year’s budget," Key said.

And, there’s a possibility of another 1-percent hit in the near future.

Key said the only solution is creating ways that bring in more money, such as levying a 1-cent sales tax for education.

Pike County collects 9.7 mills plus the 1-cent sales tax Key calls the "lifeblood" of schools. Troy City Schools collect 10.7 mills plus sales tax.

According to AlaTax revenues, $2.36 million in sales tax was collected on behalf of education during fiscal year 1999-2000.

Local funding is approximately 15 to 19 percent of the total funding for schools and the last time Pike County Schools saw an increase in that money was in 1978.

A temporary increase was made several years ago.

That 1-cent sales tax was approved by Pike County voters in November 1992. But, it was only passed for a year’s time.

This time, Key wants the 1-cent increase, if approved, to be in effect forever.

"We’re getting by," Key said. "We’re not able to provide what our children need."

And, if the system "can’t make it," Key said sports and other extra curricular activities could be pulled from the system’s programs.

Key said the need is "clear" and more cuts will definitely have an impact on the education being provided in the county schools.