Bazzell: 2012 budget a concern

Published 8:54 am Wednesday, April 6, 2011

As lawmakers work to set the state’s 2012 education budget, local leaders are watching with concern.

“The education budget is being developed now,” said state Rep. Alan Boothe, R-Troy .“It has not been voted on. They’re still formulating the education budget and they’re still getting the figures on it, so we don’t have any kind of figures on how the education budget will act.”

Boothe said that “right now” it looks as though the education budget might have to have more proration, but Gov. Robert Bentley has not yet indicated such actions. Bentley declared 3 percent proration earlier this year and already declared 15 percent proration for the general fund budget.

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With more proration likely, local school officials are trying to prepare for the cuts.

Dr. Mark Bazzell, Pike County Schools superintendent, said although money is tight, Pike County schools have “faired pretty well.”

“We’ve still got about 1.6 months in reserve, which means we’re in fairly decent shape financially considering the circumstances,” Bazzell said. “We’ve weathered the storm pretty well during the first three years of this downturn in the economy.”

Bazzell said that the 3 percent cut in this fiscal year has cost the school system about $400,000 which, for a school system of Pike County’s size, is “pretty significant.”

“Fortunately, we have enough in reserves and we had actually planned to grow our reserves a little bit in this year’s budget,” Bazzell said. “We’re certainly going to be OK the rest of this fiscal year.”

Bazzell said that the question for the Pike County School system is what will the fiscal year 2012 budget look like.

According to Bazzell, the governor’s proposed budget cuts a lot of money from a funding category called, “other current expense,” (OCE) which provides the school system with help that is all too often overlooked.

“The OCE money is the money that we use to pay for support personnel – secretaries, bookkeepers, instructional aides, custodians – all those employees are funded through OCE,” Bazzell said.

“We employ around 14 custodians system-wide and the salary and benefits of those employees run close to $500,000.”

Bazzell said significant cuts to OCE create concern in the school system over whether those employees paid through OCE money will be able to be retained.

“We’re still crunching the numbers and are waiting to see what’s going to happen in Montgomery,” Bazzell said. “We actually hope that they raise the devisers a little bit for state-funded teacher units, because we can fund some of those teaching units using federal dollars and if they would shift that money into OCE or transportation it would help us at the local level.”

Transportation is another issue which Bazzell worries about.

“One of the things we certainly have to be concerned about, because we run a transportation system, is the cost of diesel fuel,” Bazzell said.

“We all feel the pain at the pump when we go fill up our vehicles, but people need to understand that we run school buses twice a day and we have career technical education routes, as well as trips that are more or less mandatory that our children have to travel on school buses.”

Bazzell said that school buses generally get about four miles to a gallon and that Pike County schools average about 7,000 miles a week.

“Right now, our biggest concern, in terms of budgets for next year is in the area of OCE and transportation,” Bazzell said.

“In terms of budgeting, we feel the best way to handle it would be to have a small increase in the devisers and for them to put some more money in OCE and transportation.”