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Amendment a boost to area schools

With the passage of the state’s Constitutional Amendment 1, local schools are breathing a sigh of relief — for now.

Both local school systems and Troy University officials have said the amendment, which will allow the state to borrow money from a trust fund, will likely carry them through the rest of the school year without making major cuts.

“We will continue business as usual and won’t have to cut any programs this year,” said Pike County Schools Superintendent Mark Bazzell.

But, with state proration most likely on the way, schools shouldn’t get too excited yet.

“We do understand that we still may be faced with proration for the ’09 school year because sales tax revenue is not up at this time,” said Troy City Schools Superintendent Linda Felton-Smith. “Projections are as long as we are under 7 percent we will be OK.”

The amendment will allow legislators to borrow as much as $625 million to offset proration, as well as balance the state’s general fund.

According to the Associated Press, the funds borrowed will have to be paid back in coming years, regardless of whether the economy picks up.

Riley said in a press conference Wednesday, even with the passage of Amendment 1, a hiring freeze will be likely for state departments to offset costs.

But, it will help prevent from cutting back other education programs like the Alabama Reading Initiative and distance learning.

Local schools already survived a small hurdle this month, when 25 percent of their alloted monthly funding was held back temporarily.

Now all school systems have been paid that additional 25 percent, but officials are waiting to see what will happen next.

“We have received that 25 percent, and we are now waiting to see what the sales tax for November will look like to get a better feel for the percentage,” Felton-Smith said. “We are hoping we will not be faced with partials in the next month.”

Superintendents said while the expansion of the rainy day account will ease the burden this year, they aren’t sure what will happen in the next.

“Next year will be a different story because those rainy day funds won’t be available in the next fiscal year,” Bazzell said. “So likely the next fiscal year will be difficult.”

Luckily for Pike County Schools, Bazzell said they should have enough in their reserve funds to last on their own in the 2010 school year.

Felton-Smith said Troy City Schools will just work to be cautious and hope for the best.

“We’ll continue to be cautious with our expenditures because we are faced with difficult times,” Felton-Smith said.

And while they may not know what is to come, all local schools said they are grateful voters have chosen to pass Amendment 1.

“I’m very appreciative of all the people in Pike County and throughout the state that supported Amendment 1 because that shows the people are concerned with education funding,” Felton-Smith said.

Even Troy University said this will help them in hard economic times.

“We are pleased that Amendment 1 was ratified by the voters of Alabama and the fact it will help with proration that looks like is coming,” said Director of Government Relations Marcus Paramore. “As always, Troy University will do everything in their power to be good stewards of the taxpayers money.”