Education proration will cut deep

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 3, 2001

Gov. Don Siegelman has enacted 6.2 percent proration in the hopes that frugality on the part of the state will overcome a shortage of revenue that was expected from sales tax returns.

The move may have done what many educational leaders in the state had predicted in the wake of anticipated 8 percent cuts. One superintendent said recently, "When they announce 6 percent after building us up for 8 percent, they expect everybody will be relieved. But many of the state's schools can't even absorb 6 percent so the good news, bad news' delivery won't serve to make some of us very happy."

That's exactly what happened.

But the cuts extend beyond 6.2 percent. As school administrators have noted, an earlier delivery could have made a great deal of difference, but, as they said, it was an election year and the budget was irresponsibly approved in order to make things look good when they weren't. What could have been done through an earlier delivery or through truth in budgeting is that school systems could have had more time to absorb the cuts.

As it is, schools operate under an October 1- September 30 fiscal year. When "proration" cuts of 6.2 percent are announced in February, it means that schools only have from February through October to absorb a cut of 6.2 percent of overall revenue.

This actually means that an entire year's cuts have to be made in eight months. That means that each month has to be cut in the neighborhood of 10 percent until the end of the fiscal year.

What's more, some superintendents (the same ones who warned that events would unfold as they have) believe there is real potential for the state to cut deeper in coming months when 6.2 percent proves to be too little. And when that happens, they fear, it will be too late to do anything about it.

The local cuts will amount to nearly $900,000. Since most teachers have contracts that run through the school year, mid-year job cuts are hardly an option.

Mike Reed, Butler County Superintendent of Schools, said about $500,000 of the cuts will come from holding 20 percent of the teacher supply fund, and holding all of the unspent textbook fund, technology fund and library development fund. The other $400,000 will come from local reserves. Reed said that will virtually deplete the BOE's reserve, but the school is fortunate to have one at all.

All this comes as Butler County schools face the need to get the school tax referendum passed by the voters to ensure uninterrupted school funding. The local tax contributes $1.2 million annually in matching funds for the $12 million the state provides.

Gov. Siegelman said when he delivered the news that teacher layoffs can be avoided.

"Let me put this plainly, drastic steps that directly affect the classroom

such as teacher layoffs – are the last things local school superintendents and local school boards should ever do," Siegelman said. "And if we set the right priorities, teacher layoffs will not be necessary. So, we have to get our educational priorities straight. Right now."

And local officials seem to have worked the math to get through the end of the school year. But at some point, it seems obvious that teacher cuts will be the only answer.