A 14 percent budget cut to the local school system is challenging the board of education with some tough decisions, and could lead to higher property taxes, furlough days, a cut to the local pay supplement or a reduction in force.
The Hart County Board of Education discussed at its regular meeting Monday night the options for dealing with a possible $3.3 million budget cut from the school system’s FY2021 budget after state legislators asked each state-funded agency last month to cut budgets by 14 percent due to a $1 billion shortfall in state revenue.
“In education, we thought that 2009 was a disaster. They’re saying that this is no comparison to what we’re fixing to have to deal with,” Superintendent Jay Floyd said at the meeting.
Floyd explained the problems with cutting 14 percent of last year’s budget, including questioning whether that 14 percent comes before or after the budget is adjusted for what the system pays for its “fair share” in Quality Basic Education (QBE) and accounting for teacher step-raises. If the budget cut is taken with QBE money in the equation, a 14 percent cut would be about $3.3 million, equalling about 33 to 35 teachers’ salaries and benefits, Floyd said.
“We’re trying to get clarification on, first of all, where to take our 14 percent cut from the budget,” Floyd said.
Options to remedy the budget cut were outlined by Floyd. The school system received $897,397 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act — money Floyd said can be used in a number of ways.
Floyd also said the board could look at raising the millage rate to make up the money lost from the cut. The rate has decreased or stayed the same for the past five years and is currently among the lowest rates in the state, Floyd said.
“I believe that we can get there and not really have a reduction in force of a lot of employees,” Floyd said.
Another option is cutting the local supplement to teachers’ pay, which is about 5 percent of a teacher’s salary. If the entire local supplement is taken away from every certified staff member, savings would equal $950,000, Floyd said.
“On average, that’s probably anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 on each person’s contract,” Floyd said.
Furlough days are another option for the board. On those days, there would be no school and employees would not be paid. If the board chose to take four furlough days, about $600,000 would be saved.
Step-raises for teachers could also be frozen until the next year, which would save the system about $310,000.
“So basically, where you are as a board, you’re going to have to make some tough decisions on how we’re going to get $3.3 million dollars,” Floyd said.
Under normal circumstances, without the current public health crisis, Floyd said he would’ve already met with each faculty member and outlined all the options, asking them to rank which options they think will work best. He said he’s still trying to find a way to explain the situation to the staff and take a survey.
Using the school system’s reserve fund was listed as an option, but Floyd cautioned the board to keep in mind that money is to make payroll and operational costs while the system is not collecting as much revenue or if the local taxes don’t come in when planned.
“We’re very fortunate that our property taxes are as low as they are. That gives us a lot of flexibility, a lot of leeway that a lot of people are not going to have,” Floyd said. “But at the same time, we’re going to be cut as thin as we can be cut.”
Floyd said he would take whatever cut he needed to take to his salary, and that nobody in the system was exempt from these cuts.
“It’s a whole lot better when we take it on together,” Floyd said. “... I think our community will step up to the plate. It’s better for all of us to give a little, than one group to give a lot.”
Money collected from Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) can not be used in the budget, Floyd noted, because it has to be used for projects it is intended for.
Floyd said there would be more budget discussions in the coming meetings.
In other business:
• The board unanimously approved a request from Hart Partners for $10,000 to continue its summer programs. Board member Richard Sutherland abstained due to his involvement with the Hart Partners program.
• A recommendation to continue the current nutrition contract with Carolina Produce was approved unanimously.
• The FY21 Special Education Staffing Model was approved unanimously.
• The superintendent’s personnel recommendations were approved. Hart County Middle School Assistant Principal Chuck King resigned and Earl Fouch will now be the assistant principal at the middle school.