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School board starts work on budget
Projections call for $1.9M shortfall
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The Effingham County Board of Education is beginning work on the fiscal year 2014 budget, set to take effect July 1.

The board reviewed the school district’s first draft of the FY14 budget. Initial projections are for expenses ($82.6 million) to exceed revenue ($80.7 million).

“That puts the bottom line number at about $1.8 million, $1.9 million that we’ve got to come up with in some fashion,” said Slade Helmly, the school district’s executive director of administrative services.

Superintendent Randy Shearouse is confident the shortfall can be made up with funds the school district receives from county property taxes. The district collected more in school taxes than it anticipated last year and expects to do the same this year.

“The good news, and certainly we need good news regarding the budget, is that we did over-collect last year in our taxes,” Shearouse said. “We can lean on the over-collection from last year in local taxes and the over-collection we’re anticipating this year to help meet that $1.8 million (deficit).”

Assistant Superintendent Greg Arnsdorff clarified that the term “over-collected” does not mean county residents were over-taxed. Rather, it refers to tax collections exceeding the estimate the school district put in the budget.

“We’re not charging more,” said board member Mose Mock. “It’s just that money was owed,” and people are catching up on paying overdue taxes.

“It’s back taxes, is what it amounts to,” said Chairman Lamar Allen.

The public will have two opportunities to comment on the budget, tentatively scheduled for the May 16 and June 20 board of education meetings. The school board plans to approve the FY14 budget and the property tax millage rate at the June 20 meeting.

School officials used the current fiscal year’s revenue and expense bottom lines as starting points for the FY14 budget. The numbers will become more concrete once the school district receives the county tax digest and learns how much education funding the state will provide.

“Right now (state legislators) are saying they’re not cutting K-12 education any more than what the austerity reductions are,” Shearouse said.

The school district estimates additional revenue in some areas, including a $600,000 increase in quality basic education funding from the state and $400,000 more in equalization funding that is provided to lower-wealth school districts.

“There’s been a $40 million increase in equalization funding statewide, and it appears that we get about 1 percent of that,” Helmly said.

In addition, the budget draft calls for four jobs to be cut within the school system, trimming $280,000 in salaries and benefits.

Meanwhile, the school district anticipates its expenses to increase by $542,000 for employee health insurance, $900,000 for step raises for certified and non-certified employees, and $517,000 for the teacher retirement system.

“So you’ve got less staff, but you’re paying more retirement,” Mock said. “That’s nuts, isn’t it?”

Any additional school tax revenue would boost the $5.7 million general fund balance the school district had when the current fiscal year began on July 1, 2012. That coincides with this year’s expense budget being “right on the money,” according to Finance Director Ron Wilson.

“We’re not off any with salaries and benefits up through January,” Wilson said.

The supplies budget is more difficult to predict, Wilson said, since some supplies are bought at the beginning of the school year and others are bought at the end. Also, expenses such as electrical power and diesel fuel are included in the supplies budget.

“But all of that is not off very much when you combine all of it,” he said. “You’re looking at a very, very tight expense budget. It’s come in exactly what we wanted.”