Proration: historical mark

Published 8:50 pm Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The 12.5 state proration declared by Gov. Bob Riley Monday was the largest number in 48 years of school history. And it was a number that local superintendents were not ready to hear.

“I was totally shocked,” said Troy City Schools Superintendent Linda Felton-Smith. “I never anticipated proration being that high.”

But even though the number wasn’t as low as they had hoped, Felton-Smith and Pike County Schools Superintendent Mark Bazzell said the school systems are in good shape to endure the storm.

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“What I want parents and students and teachers to do is carry on business as usual, and let us worry about proration,” Bazzell said. “The doors are open and are going to remain open, and we need to move full speed ahead.”

Superintendents knew undoubtably proration would hit in this academic year, but what they didn’t know is the rainy day fund may not be able to pick up for missing funds.

With a rainy day fund that would cover up to 7 percent proration, school systems locally were looking at having little affect the remainder of this school year and looking to tighten their belts more seriously in the coming year.

But, plans have changed, whether students will see the results or not, since right now, the rainy day fund will only bring proration down to 9 percent.

Neither superintendent could say for sure what would have to be cut, but they both had some ideas.

Bazzell said Pike County Schools, when looking at their losses, will have to carry on without around $126,000 a month for the next 10 months.

That’s out of the approximate $1.1 million the school system is supposed to receive each month.

Bazzell said in the next few weeks, school officials will search for ways to tighten the budget, like deferring maintenance, cutting travel and rescheduling professional development.

“The ideal situation is for us to make cuts in a manner students and teachers don’t even know we’re in proration,” Bazzell said.

But, at least for this year, teacher positions are most likely safe in both school systems.

Felton-Smith said she isn’t sure the exact ways the school system will have to bear the burden, but they will be looking at each line of the budget to make these determinations.

Of the approximate $12.6 million Troy City Schools received this year from the state, Felton-Smith said they will be looking at cuts of $1.1 million this year, which boils down to $113,000 each month.

Some of the ways the system may compensate are cutting travel, deferring professional development or eliminating field trips and equipment purchases.

“We will be OK for this year,” Felton-Smith said. “We can make it.”

With reserves, both school systems said even if the remainder of the rainy day fund isn’t used, an amount that could drop proration below even 9 percent, they are in good shape.

Pike County has $3 million reserved and Troy City, $9 million.

“I’m optimistic with our reserves, the impact will be minimal,” Bazzell said.

Hank Jones, who served as the Troy City Schools superintendent prior to Felton-Smith, said he has never seen proration hit this hard.

“I was flabbergasted actually when I heard the governor announce the percentage,” Jones said. “This is the worst proration that I have ever seen.”

Jones, who works with superintendents across the state, said locally, schools are prepared, but it won’t be easy.

“Troy City and Pike County have both done a good job of setting funds aside, but even the dollars they have are not going to be adequate if this thing runs as long as I think it will,” Jones said. “Next year, barring a miracle, is going to be worse than this year.

“I think anybody who thinks this is going to be a one or two year thing is not being realistic,” Jones said. “I think it’s going to take a good three years.”

In the coming weeks, it should be more clear what types of changes will have to be made to the education budgets. In the meantime, business will carry on as usual.

“We just want parents and students to work with us as we face these difficult times,” Felton-Smith said.