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School systems favor first budget

Budget approved by Senate last week still could change, but meets approval of local schools

A budget passed in Committee last week is one that could leave local school systems in better shape than they thought, with funding to maintain state programs and teacher positions.

But, it’s also one that likely won’t make it to the Senate floor for vote.

Local Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, said since it is late in the session, legislators passed an initial budget through committee, but the one presented to the Senate next week will be more complete, taking into account federal stimulus funds.

What Mitchell said will likely not change is the portions of cuts coming to school systems across the state.

From kindergarten to Higher Education, cuts in the committee-approved budget are essentially made at equal rates.

“I think those cuts are kind of agreed upon,” Mitchell said. “When the stimulus money came to Alabama it was directed to be on a formula that was equitable, so I don’t anticipate those percentages to change.”

While local school systems aren’t completely certain what these proposed numbers will mean to their budgets, they are initially welcoming the legislation.

Troy City Schools Superintendent Linda Felton-Smith said the budget now is designed to keep teacher divisors consistent and fund the Alabama Reading Initiative, Alabama Math and Science Technology Initiative and the ACCESS programs.

“If we’re able to maintain jobs and keep programs that have had a positive impact on learning opportunities for our students, we would be pleased,” Felton-Smith said.

Pike County Schools Superintendent Mark Bazzell said he isn’t counting any figures until a different budget is presented.

“The information we’ve received is that the budget was passed with the expectation there was going to be quite a bit of changes,” Bazzell said.

Troy University, on the other hand, has already started number crunching.

Director of Government Relations Marcus Paramore said Troy University is looking to face a 3-percent cut in state funding this year. While it’s not a cut they are happy to have, Paramore said it’s one that seems fair.

“It seems the budget is an equitable cut across the board, which is what we asked for,” Paramore said. “While we never like cuts, the fact the governor and legislature seems to be for cuts across the board is good.”

Under this proposal, the university is slated for $48 million in state funds, down from last year’s initial $55 million.

While the school was initially budgeted $55 million in 2009, proration set them down to $50 million, making this year’s cuts only 3 percent from actual funding.

“If they take this up on Tuesday, and it has changes to Higher Education, we’ll have a whole different opinion,” Paramore said.

On top of those cuts though, Paramore said the university anticipates some $4.6 million to add to the total from stimulus funds. That amount will bring the school to around $53 million, just above the prorated budget.

“It’s a little bit better than what we were expecting simply because we were asking for equitable cuts, but you never know,” Paramore said.

Even though a new budget hasn’t been presented, Mitchell said he anticipates approving one school systems across the state will be pleased with, or at least as pleased as can be expected in economic times.

“I think when it’s all packaged, everybody will be reasonable satisfied with the budget,” Mitchell said.