TCS grapples with funding cuts

Published 8:50 pm Friday, May 20, 2011

Dresden Green is worried about the future of the FFA program at Charles Henderson High School.

As a district vice president in the organization, Green says she knows first-hand the benefits to be gained from Future Farmers of America and the agriculture-based curriculum offered in her school to support the program.

After graduating this year, she plans to attend Troy University before transferring to Auburn University, where she’ll pursue her degree in veterinary medicine and poultry sciences. “The scholarships I’ll be able to earn through FFA will help pay for my education,” she said.

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Yet, she was worried this week. With news that the school’s agri-science instructor and FFA advisor would resign at the end of the year, she worried that the program would no longer exist.

“The program almost got cut last year,” said her mother, Ginger Green. “But at the last minute, they didn’t cut it. I think it’s being looked at a lot harder this year.”

“They” in this case are the administrators and central office staff at Troy City Schools charged with setting the curriculum and programs for the district. And while the decisions are weighed against student needs and services, funding is a key factor in the process. As the district enters its third school year facing proration – this time 3 percent¬ – changes to the state funding formula divisors and a drop in enrollment are tightening already tight belts.

“We have to look at the number of students enrolled in a program, and then we consider if they can receive those services anywhere else,” said Jimmy Matthews, interim superintendent. “For example, we do have an ag academy in Goshen which any of our Charles Henderson students are eligible to attend.”

Ultimately, the decision to keep or cut a program comes down to funding.

Chreseal Threadgill, assistant superintendent, said he spent “a roller-coaster week” trying to determine what programs, if any, will be affected by the funding issues.

“One time it looks gloomy, then we find something else to perk me up, then it all changes again,” he said late Friday afternoon. “It’s been a rough week, but it looks like it’s ending on a positive note.”

Threadgill said school officials are grappling with a $2 million loss in one-time federal stimulus funding combined with nearly $500,000 in reduced state funding due to what he called a “quadruple whammy” of a change in the divisor used to calculate state funding and a decrease in enrollment.

“Previously, let’s say you had a 13:1 ratio, or 13 students to one unit,” he said. “Now, the divisor is like 16:1 … and with a drop in our enrollment … it’s not a double-whammy. It’s more like a quadruple whammy.”

At one time, Threadgill said he worried the district might be faced with cutting as many as seven teacher units from the budget. “But we’ve crunched numbers, and found other money here and there … and I think we’ll be able to keep those units.”

The school board will meet, most likely early next week, in a called session to make the final decisions on funding for the 2011-2012 year, based on the recommendations of the district leaders. Until then, nothing is certain

But Threadgill said he was more confident Friday afternoon that the cuts would not be as devastating as once expected. “We’re still going to have to make cuts, but were trying to do it without making any major cuts, without cutting any programs,” he said.

That would be good news for the Greens, who re both products of the FFA program. “If you’ve got a program that’s thriving, I think we should keep it,” Ginger Green said. “The program needs to stay at CHHS.”