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School board singing budget blues

A $45 million dip in the tax digest caused by mass revaluations of property in the wake of the real estate bust has given the Lamar County board of education a bad case of budget blues. The lowering of the digest could cost it from $300,000 to $800,000. ’We were greeted with the drop of the other shoe,’ said superintendent Dr. Bill Truby at the May 8 meeting. ‘The revaluations have caught up with us now and the value of a mill has decreased considerably. One will generate about $429,000 based on the new numbers.’ When the assessors met May 10, they put the schools’ losses at between $300,000 to $400,000. Dr. Truby and the board are bracing for worst case scenario revenue cuts of $700,000 to $800,000 as more tax returns are approved. Dr. Truby and the board discussed a move to a 160day school year for 2013-14, noting a last-minute move to a 160 day year, four day school week in Peach County failed and would likely not work here either. ’We still have to keep the same minutes of instruction,’ he said. ‘We have to come face to face with what we can live with.’ Other moves include reducing the Trojan Learning Center program, dipping further into its dwindling reserve funds, furlough days ‘“ which member Horace Hightower noted would impact the overall buying power of Lamar since the school system is the largest local employer ‘“ or raising the millage rate. ’The obvious question is, where do we go from here and what do we have to do. Do we do the big things now or set the table for 2013-14?’ Truby said. ’It’s demoralizing when you think you have a handle on things. When push comes to shove we’ve got to keep the doors open.’ Measures already taken include increased class sizes, combined transportation routes and loss of personnel by attrition. He did note there was a slight increase in state funding, ‘But it’s not where it should be.’ ’Even though it’s like a punch in the gut, we have to keep in perspective we’ve held off,’ said chairman Susan Byars. ‘Now we’re at the bottom line. There are 18% in state cuts we’re never going to get back.’ Member Ron Smith noted that a new charter school law could be another hit at the school system. ’Do we cut or reduce our fund balance even more?’ Smith asked. It was noted the economic downturn could continue for several more years. ’We can cut the budget, but it’ll hurt,’ said member Danny Turner. In addition, new Georgia High School Association rules mean the schools must replace all its football helmets. Much of this added expense will be covered by gate sales and fundraisers. ’In addition to all of these challenges, we just learned health care costs for certified employees is going up too,’ said Dr. Truby. ‘This means the employer’s rates will increase over $300,000. Overall, the cost of insurance next year has risen over $600,000.’

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