• 79°

Bazzell: Pike Co. Schools finances ‘in good shape’

The Alabama state school board made headlines earlier this week when it voted to take over the finances of the Coosa and Sumter County school boards.

The takeovers were the first of their kind since 2001, but according to Pike County Schools Superintendent Mark Bazzell, no such takeover will be occurring at PCS.

“We’re in good shape, and I do not anticipate us having to borrow money for any reason,” Bazzell said.

Borrowing money had been at the root of the problem in Coosa County.

According to an Associated Press report, Choctaw, Coosa, Marengo, Perry and Tuscaloosa counties were all borrowing money to meet monthly school board payroll.

Those are just five of Alabama’s 132 systems, but the AP report also said 25 more systems were likely to begin borrowing money in the next month or so.

According to the report, nearly half of Alabama’s school systems do not have the reserve of one month’s operating expenses that the state requires.

However, that is not the case with PCS.

“The state requires that we maintain an operating reserve that is equal to one month of expenses, and right now, we’re at about 1.61 months worth,” Bazzell said.

Part of the reason the reserve is above the level mandated by the state is that the reserve held in excess of $3 million at one point.

“We took that reserve from being $160,000 or $170,000 in 2003, and in six years’ time, we grew our reserves to $3.2 million,” Bazzell said. “Now, we did have to dip into those funds last year, but we’re still in good shape.”

That extra reserve is also unlikely to be touched in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

“With the budget that we feel like we will be able to present to the board, I would anticipate that in the fiscal year of 2011, we would not have to dip into any additional reserves,” Bazzell said.

PCS’ financial security can largely be attributed to the people of Pike County and strong retails sales, Bazzell said.

“We have the citizens of Pike County, who have been very willing to support their school system,” Bazzell said.

“We certainly appreciate everything they do, from good retail sales to the work our economic development people have been doing to make sure we keep heading in the right direction. The school systems that are suffering are the ones who don’t have strong retail sales, so there’s not a whole lot of wiggle room for them.”

Even though PCS has not had to endure financial situations as dire as those of other school systems, the economic crisis has had its effect.

“Now, we have had to tighten our belt, but I think most teachers would say they haven’t felt the impact in the classroom,” Bazzell said.

“A lot of what we have done is to defer maintenance. There are some roofs we would have liked to replace, but we’ve had them patched instead.”

PCS also has $2 million in state bond money that could be used for capital improvements, but the system is holding that money in case of any emergency-type situations.

But, with the economy showing slight signs of a turnaround, Bazzell said PCS could start spending again if the improvement holds out.

“We’re trying to be real careful,” Bazzell said. “We’ve seen a little bit of recovery, but it’s been a very, very slow recovery. We’ve got to be sure that trend will continue.”