Schools react to proration

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 30, 2009

School systems will enter the next budget year already hit with cuts in state funding.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley declared a 7.5 percent proration to the 2010 fiscal budget, which starts Thursday.

For the Pike County School System, the impacts aren’t entirely known. Troy City Schools, however, know the cuts will have to be eased by dipping into the systems’ reserves.

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Pike County Schools Superintendent Mark Bazzell said that since the school system has already passed its budget, system officials will have to discuss where to make the cuts.

“Pike County, like all other schools has already submitted the budget. While, I have not done the math on 7.5 percent, I estimate it to be somewhere around $800,000,” Bazzell said. “But, that’s just a ballpark figure.”

Bazzell said the county’s main focus is to hopefully make it where students and teachers don’t feel the cuts.

“We hope the cuts would be the kind of things that students and teachers don’t notice,” Bazzell said.

Troy City Schools Superintendent Linda Felton-Smith said proration will cost more than $900,000 for the system.

But since the school system will dip into its savings account, Felton-Smith said classroom instruction will be protected.

“We will protect classroom instruction, and we will not be cutting teacher units at this point. Teacher’s sign contracts so they are (protected) for this year,” Felton-Smith said.

Riley announced Tuesday that the Education Trust Fund will enter the new fiscal year on Thursday with a shortfall that requires proration of 7.5 percent.

“Given the state of the economy, we’ve anticipated for several months now that the education budget would enter fiscal year 2010 in proration, but it’s still very unfortunate and I wish it wasn’t necessary,” Riley said. “Unlike the federal government, we cannot run deficits. Revenues are not at the level necessary to avoid spending cuts. With less revenue coming in and the escalating costs of employee health insurance, there’s no way to avoid it.”

The 2010 education budget will be $5.3 billion with the 7.5 percent proration.

Bazzell said school officials have already planned to sit down and decide where to make cuts, since they anticipated proration would be called.

“We certainly have the reserves, but we feel we have to make certain cuts,” Bazzell said.”

But what they didn’t know was how much the cuts would be.

“We were anticipating anywhere from 8 to 10 percent, so this is actually .5 percent less than we anticipated,” Felton-Smith said. “I didn’t know it would be called before Oct. 1, but I anticipated it would start soon after we started.”

Bazzell said this is the first time in his 28-year education career the state has started off the year with a prorated budget, but he and Felton-Smith agreed it would be easier for cuts to come early.

“It gives you more time to prepare,” Bazzell said.

“The fact it is being called early means that we can spread it out over the 12 months,” Felton-Smith said.

School systems statewide are coming off one of the highest prorations in Alabama history, which could make it more difficult in the long run.

“Of course it makes it more difficult,” Bazzell said. “We made a lot of cuts last year.”

Felton-Smith agreed the hits taken last year would make proration more difficult in this coming year’s budget. But, the real concern is not this year.

“Not only are we going to be faced with two years of proration back to back, there is a possibility of the 2011 budget being less than the 2010 budget,” Felton-Smith said. “If it is less than the 2010 budget, that could create major problems going from one year to the next.”