Schools endorse amendment

Published 10:19 am Thursday, October 23, 2008

Local public school officials said they will support Amendment 1, which will expand the state’s rainy day education fund and potentially offset likely proration.

The state’s constitutional amendment, which will be voted on Nov. 4, will allow the government to borrow money from a state trust fund, paid into by oil companies, to lessen the effects of foreseen proration.

“Unless there is a significant change in the economy, I think the fiscal year ’09 state education budget is destined for proration,” said Pike County Schools Superintendent Mark Bazzell. “We’re hopeful Amendment 1 will pass, and we’re encouraging everyone we can to support Amendment 1.”

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Although the borrowed money may only be a temporary fix, Troy City Schools Superintendent Linda Felton-Smith said she is backing it, as well.

“I support the passage of the amendment. What it will do, is it will help lower the amount of proration for the fiscal year ’09 budget,” Felton-Smith said. “I understand clearly it will not help the fiscal year ’10 budget because before additional money could be borrowed it has to be paid back.”

Troy University, which would also take a big hit in a prorated budget, hasn’t taken an official stance on Amendment 1 yet.

“I haven’t made up my mind, and I don’t think the university has a stance,” said Director of Government Relations Marcus Paramore. “Universities as a whole in this state are in support.”

Both Troy and Pike County Schools said if the amendment isn’t passed, the school systems could be looking at facing a loss of a half-million dollars each this year.

“If the amendment does not pass, that means the percentage of proration would be higher, and we would not get the amount we anticipate from the state each month, and we would have to make that up locally,” Felton-Smith said. “There are so many things we have made progress with I would hate to see this one year cause us to not maintain many of the programs.”

Bazzell said Pike County Schools are fortunate to have a reserve fund saved to make it through the year, but next school year would bring about cuts without Amendment 1.

“The good thing for us is if it doesn’t pass, we have done a good job at building our reserves, and it certainly would not be impacted this year in terms of services we’re providing,” Bazzell said. “Next year, we would probably have to make some cuts and look closely at the things we’ve been doing.”

Paramore said it’s difficult to predict how much proration would cost Troy University until it actually happens.

Experts have speculated between 4 and 9 percent proration without Amendment 1, but even with it, there still will be 1 to 5 percent in this school year, Paramore said.

“It’s a Band-Aid,” Paramore said. “Because we do everything on a projection, it’s difficult to say what the shortfall will actually be. Anytime you take a hit, you would have to cut back services somewhere.”

Looking ahead of Amendment 1, the legislature will have it’s work cut out when it convenes in February, as the next year’s budget will go off of this year’s revenues.

“They’ll probably be making cuts equal or more than they are this year,” Paramore said.

If economic conditions improve, however, Amendment 1 could just buy the state time.

“Beyond fiscal year 2010, we hope the economy turns around, and Amendment 1 would allow us to survive the downturn in the economy, depending on how long it lasts,” Bazzell said.