Hazlehurst schools face serious budget crunch

The Hazlehurst School District is looking for an additional  $650,000 to balance the budget for 2010-2011, reports State Conservator James Reeves.

This comes on the heels of a number of budget reductions that have already been put in place – some to reduce the budget deficit of 2008 which resulted in the state takeover, and more cuts due to the cuts in state funding in this year’s budget.

So far for 2009-2010, the district has been cut 8.193 percent, which amounts to $498,000. And there is no guarantee from Governor Barbour that there won’t be more cuts forthcoming. These losses in funding have been offset by timber sales totaling $380,000, but there is no such help scheduled for next fiscal year. No significant timber sales are scheduled for next year.

The school district is preparing for a 10 to 15 percent cut in 2010-2011, which is equal to around $750,000.  Raising millage by 3 mills, the maximum allowed in one year without public input, will raise about $65,000 per mill, leaving the district still looking for $650,000 to balance the budget.

During the past year the district issued a $3 million facility improvement bond to repair and replace roofs, bathrooms, and address other building maintenance issues. “There is no legal way for this to be used to offset the state revenue shortfalls,” explained Reeves.

The major portion of any school’s budget is personnel. For Hazlehurst, this amounts to 80 percent of the budget, including salaries, wages, and benefits.

Possible budget

reduction AREAS

Some areas are being considered where the district is looking to save some money. Personnel may be reduced, although the district must still meet state accreditation standards. No new textbooks will be ordered. Energy consumption will be reduced as much as possible. Nonessential travel will be cut. The use of substitute teachers covering absentees will be reduced.

Staff reductions may be necessary if funding is not available, Reeves cautioned. The district’s reduction in force policy takes into account critical positions, subject areas, certification, experience with the district, and other considerations.

“We are to the point of having to account for every dollar,” said Reeves. “The economic decisions which are going to be made will always have the education of the students as a first priority. We will not be able to provide everything we want, so we will make the most out of what we do have.”

Reeves added that he does not foresee cutting any programs like band or athletics.

Other steps will be taken such as certifying the coaches to drive buses to cut down on costs. All overtime eliminated in district. Under a hiring freeze, vacancies for non-certified staff will not be filled. All expenses will be cut to the bone, Reeves warned.

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