I know this board was very good when we had the (economic) downfall in the mid 2000s. I was very proud that we didn’t have to cut music. We didn’t have to cut art. That’s our philosophy still. We want to make sure we can find those shortfalls in other areas.Assistant Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford
SPRINGFIELD — The Effingham County Board of Education’s budget is in a holding pattern.
The board, which met Thursday, can’t act until it learns how deeply state lawmakers will cut funding for education in Fiscal Year 2021. The General Assembly, which suspended the 2020 session in March because of COVID-19, has a projected shortfall of about $3.6 billion that it must plug before July 1.
“As I said at the last meeting, we are still unsure of what type of cuts we may have to make,” Assistant Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford said.
Gov. Brian Kemp has called for 14 percent cuts for every state agency and it appears education will not be excluded. The legislature is constitutionally mandated to deliver a balanced budget every year.
Ford, set to succeed Dr. Randy Shearouse as superintendent next month, said the legislature will reconvene in mid-June.
“The reason that I think they are taking so long to go back, besides just to make sure everybody is safe, is so that they have a better picture and get the May (tax revenue) numbers,” Ford said.
Under what he called “potentially the worst-case scenario,” Ford said the district could face an $8 million shortfall because of state budget cuts. That’s why he asked other district administrators to help him find potential savings.
“We don’t want to hurt the teachers and we don’t want to hurt the students so we did not mess with any of the stuff on the school side,” Ford said.
Instead, the administrators, recently focusing on travel expenses and energy costs, reduced the budget by $1.3 million.
“When we get closer to mid-June and we have the exact (state) numbers, I want to make sure that our staff at the board office can provide you as board members with options of how we can close the gap, so to speak,” Ford said. “And we want to do a very good job of that without hurting students. I know this board was very good when we had the (economic) downfall in the mid 2000s.
“I was very proud that we didn’t have to cut music. We didn’t have to cut art. That’s our philosophy still.
“We want to make sure we can find those shortfalls in other areas.”
During Fiscal Year 2020, the Effingham County School District received $86,278,832 of its $121,965,386 from the state. The rest came from local and federal sources.
Earlier, Ford discussed school lunch prices for the upcoming year. He said a plan submitted by School Nutrition Program Administrator Jessica O’Leary and her staff might require a slight increase.
“Tonight, it’s just a discussion point,” Ford said. “We’re not asking the board to vote on anything tonight.”
Ford reminded the board that the O’Leary is guided by Section 205 of the Healthy, Hungry-Free Act of 2010. It requires schools to raise meal prices to be in line with federal reimbursement rates.
“An increase of 25 cents for elementary lunches only would yield a weighted average of $2.75 and would put us in compliance with the required weighted average price for 2020-2021,” Ford said. “Her office is proposing to us a 25-cents price increase for elementary lunch prices only. It would equal the same price as middle and high school.”
In the just completed school year, lunch cost $2.50 at the elementary level and $2.75 at the middle and high school levels. The reduced price, based on application approval, was 40 cents at all schools.
Ford said Chatham County school lunches cost $3 for all grade levels. The cost is $2.85 in Bryan County.
“As we’ve talked about in years past, if we do have to make meal price increases, we don’t want to have to do it every year,” he said. “We want to only have to do that in times of need to follow the law and not have to do it again the next year. It’s all based on when you fall below that weighted average.”
It currently costs about $3.75 to produce each lunch, Ford said. The school nutrition program in Effingham County is self-sufficient, he added.
“They have to make that work,” he said.
A vote on the issue is expected at the June 3 board meeting.