Unless the Bibb County school system makes big changes, the districts budget reserves are projected to be in the red after the fiscal 2014 year, according to preliminary budget numbers shared with the school board Tuesday night.
The districts reserves could go from nearly $4.7 million in fiscal 2014 to nearly $7.6 million in the red the year after.
Interim Chief Financial Officer Sharon Roberts shared those projections based on budget information that is currently available, and those numbers are subject to change as the district gets more information about incoming state and local revenue in the spring.
The district is projected to spend more than $184 million from its general fund in fiscal 2014, with $12.3 million needing to come out of the reserves to make up for the gap of revenue coming in to cover those costs. The school system will have to pay higher health insurance and retirement costs for staff while receiving less state and local revenue in fiscal 2014.
To replenish the systems funds, the district will need to look at new options to cut costs, such as consolidating schools and moving toward a seven-period day in Bibbs high schools, Superintendent Romain Dallemand and board members discussed at the meeting.
The most effective way to tackle a deficit is to cut costs, and school leaders should look at ways to run public schools more like a business. One way the system could do that is to contract some services, such as transportation, to third-party companies, he said.
We need to make some tough decisions around this budget, said Dallemand.
Moving high schools from a block schedule to a seven-period day could also save the system between $1.3 and $2 million, the superintendent said.
Board member Tom Hudson said the system considered other cost-cutting measures last year, such as consolidating schools with low student enrollment, but the proposal, projected to save about $28 million, received a lot of opposition.
Now were back in the same predicament, he said.
Board member Lester Miller expressed concern that deep cuts would hurt the districts ability to keep quality teachers in the district.
He also said the district should consider the potential costs of implementing year-round school.
We dont have any figures on that, Miller said.
Dallemand said the idea wouldnt cost the system any more money if they didnt add any more programs, but Miller raised questions about operations costs.
School officials will also have to make amendments to the fiscal 2013 budget if legal costs, exceed $1 million.
The system is in the middle of several pending lawsuits.
Hearing for two of those will take place Friday -- a whistle-blower lawsuit by former Chief Financial Officer Ron Collier, as well as a motion that challenges the legality of Dallemands contract.
Hudson defended the attorneys work, saying they have been working expeditiously on lawsuits against the system.
He also supported the idea of year-round school, saying it will have a widespread impact on the district, especially those students that dont have the opportunity to attend summer camps and other programs.
We have to look at the whole rather than a segment of the kids, Hudson said.
School board members are expected to review preliminary budget numbers in two more sessions in the spring, taking a vote on a final budget in June.
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.