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Serious situation for schools

How do you tackle a $1.8 million dollar problem? The question now stands before Superintendent Mike Looney and Butler County Schools following Gov. Bob Riley’s declaration of proration on Monday.

Riley’s announcement from Montgomery effectively cut state education funding by 9 percent, leaving Looney and the Butler County Board of Education looking for ways to do without the funds budgeted for this fiscal year.

Riley has since delivered a message of optimism, reminding a Birmingham area chamber of commerce that the cuts were “not going to be a catastrophe.”

While the situation doesn’t call for panic, it is serious.

In the coming weeks, Butler County Schools will “take a pencil to everything,” Looney said, which could mean even pencils themselves wind up on the chopping block.

Among the items to be scrutinized — and under these circumstances Looney said nothing is off limits — are textbooks, professional development programs, library enhancements and technology.

Looney has been hard at work turning over every stone, including those in his own office.

He just can’t picture himself driving a gassed-up car funded by a school board that can’t afford to put paper in its classrooms.

So when Looney presents his plan to the board in January, he’ll recommend he be required to use his personal vehicle, even when on official business.

It’s one of many concessions the school system will have to consider.

Unfortunately, funding now becomes an even greater obstacle for a district facing its fair share of challenges.

Fortunately, it has leadership like Looney and a board of education with the good sense to keep a reserve of more than $2 million.

The emergency fund won’t solve the district’s problems — depleting the fund would leave the system in a vulnerable position in the coming fiscal year, expected to be just as challenging — but it does point to a school system that’s shown fiscal responsibility.

And now more than ever, that’s exactly what we need.