BOE has “wait and see” attitude

Published 8:33 am Wednesday, April 6, 2011

It’s a “wait and see” scenario for the Butler County Board of Education and public school systems statewide as they await the Legislature’s final decisions on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins October 1.

Because of delays in the Legislature making those decisions, BOE president Linda Hamilton said the local BOE has been somewhat left in limbo in terms of how to proceed.

The BOE held a very well attended regular board meeting in March at Georgiana School to discuss a number of possible options to make up the shortfall in funds, including the possible closure of McKenzie School and its consolidation with Georgiana School, a highly controversial topic.

Email newsletter signup

At that time, the Board announced it had to meet an April 15 deadline set by the State Department of Education to submit a plan to make up the $600,000-plus shortfall in the reserve funds. All school boards in Alabama are required by law to maintain one month’s operating expenses on reserve.

A follow-up special called meeting to, as stated in the BOE press release, “discuss possible solutions to the impending financial devastation of proration” was planned at 5 p.m. Wednesday night, March 30, “to prevent interfering with anyone going to Wednesday church services,” said Hamilton.

“Our superintendent was going to be out of town later in the week and we had hopes the Legislature would be in a position by that date to give us much better indicators as to what to expect. But the whole process is taking longer than anticipated, and after talking with Rep. Charles Newton, we realized they wouldn’t have the answers we needed in time.” The meeting was subsequently canceled.

Hamilton said she was glad the Legislature was being thorough in their approach to building a new budget, but it did make it hard for the local BOE to move forward in making some of those tough decisions already discussed.

“We don’t know a couple of things: one, whether certain monies we’ve used in the past to pay salaries for cafeteria workers and bus drivers and other employees will be put back into the budget, and two, what further cuts we will have.,” she said. “Because school boards across the state are facing the same thing, we’ve been given an extension on that April 15 deadline. The state recognized we can’t make plans while we are still waiting on the Legislature.”

And cuts for education there will assuredly be, says Board member Joe Lisenby. “It’s a given fact we won’t get more money; it’s just knowing how much less we are going to have to work with that’s the sticking point,” he said. “We don’t have those stimulus monies anymore and our reserve funds are running out. You could say we are between a rock and a hard place right now.”

Hamilton said she anticipated between $150,000-$200,000 being left in the reserve funds at the end of September, far short of what the system needs to have on hand.

“We are way off the mark of having that one month’s operating expenses, and we may have to look at borrowing money,” Hamilton said.

“So far, we haven’t had to use our line of credit through all this proration.  We’ve been very fortunate in that respect. Many systems have already had to borrow money.

Superintendent Darren Douthitt said he urges the public to be patient for a little while longer as the BOE waits to get the final word on the new budget.

“We know people are eager to know what is going to happen in terms of these cuts, but we really have to see what the Legislature chooses to do and then plan accordingly. Our Board is not making any decisions without much thought and consideration,” Douthitt said.