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Staff could be cut with increased proration

With proration likely to return, and a search for a new superintendent to undertake, the Butler County Board of Education will face a number of tough challenges in the next few months.

So says its current superintendent Mike Looney.

Looney, who is now in formal contract negotiations with Williamson County, Tenn., told the board during Tuesday night’s work session he should have a firm date of departure by the next regular meeting, slated for September 17.

“Assuming everything goes well with the negotiations, and the board releases me from my contract, I am looking at leaving between November 1 and November 15,” Looney said. “If it turns out the negotiations will take longer, I will push my timeline back so I won’t be putting this board in a bad position. I’m not going to shirk my duties. I have to say, this board is facing its most difficult challenges in the last 10-15 years.”

The system’s chief financial officer Sherry Bennett shared details of the 2010 budget for the Foundation Program. Even with more than $811,000 from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, the county will still be nearly $600,000 short of meeting its needs in the coming year, Bennett said.

“That means that money will have to come from either the General Fund or the county’s reserves,” Bennett said.

Although seven percent is more likely, Looney said the governor has stated as much as 10 percent proration can be expected for the new fiscal year beginning October 1.

“While sales tax revenue is up more than we expected, it is still not sufficient enough to have no further need of proration,” Looney said. “In a nutshell, if no proration is called, we will still have to take nearly $600,000 out of reserves. If additional proration is added, you could end up with no reserves whatsoever, or borrowing money to meet payroll.”

Unless there is a drastic shift in state revenues, Bennett said the system, which has already made many cuts, could very well be looking at eliminating personnel, beginning at the Central Office and moving down.

Looney stressed the construction projects in the county were funded by “completely separate monies” through local sales tax revenue and had no effect on proration.

The board plans to hold a Saturday retreat on October 10 to further discuss budget issues.

In terms of the superintendent search, board chair Joe Lisenby said he felt the procedure used for the last search should be repeated.

“I feel if we follow the same procedure as we did with Mr. Looney, I don’t think we need to go to the expense of a search firm. We had a broad area of applicants from all over the southeast last time,” Lisenby said.

Board member Linda Hamilton suggested the board find someone soon to serve as interim to work alongside Looney and be “ready to step into his shoes” when he leaves.

Hamilton expressed hope the board would also consider the possibility of candidates within the system.

“I think we should give any qualified candidates within our county the chance to be considered,” Hamilton said. “I’m not saying we will fill the position with a local candidate, but we should give them a chance.”

The next board meeting is slated for 7 p.m., September 17 at the Central Office Boardroom, with a work session at 6 p.m.

Budget hearings will be at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday, September 14 at the boardroom.