Bibb school board’s preliminary budget includes no furloughs

Board also votes to cooperate with Dallemand investigation

jmink@macon.comMarch 4, 2014 

A preliminary version of the Bibb County school district’s fiscal 2015 budget includes no furloughs and projects a financial loss because of new charter schools opening.

The numbers presented Tuesday during a called school board meeting are in the very early stages and could change, partly because proposed state legislation is still being discussed and because the charter school impact still is unclear, said Ron Collier, the school system’s chief financial officer.

For now, officials estimate two charter schools slated to open in the next academic year will mean a total loss of about $3.9 million. Enrollment in Bibb schools is projected to drop from 23,350 to 21,990 students. The budget also includes extra expenses due to no furloughs and an estimated increase in district-funded contributions to employee health care plans.

In total, the preliminary budget predicts a deficit of $7.2 million, which would be covered by the fund balance. At the beginning of fiscal 2015, the fund balance is estimated to be at $22.8 million. After covering the anticipated deficit, that balance would be about $15.6 million, which still meets the district’s goal, Collier said.

That goal is for the fund balance to be at least 8 percent of expenses. The estimated general fund revenues for fiscal 2015 are more than $174 million. In addition to extra expenses, the preview budget includes millions in lost property tax revenue over the years. That’s due to a decrease in the property tax digest and a stable millage rate over the years.

Still, the preliminary budget includes some positive notes. Officials expect more than $6 million in recovered state funds, as austerity cuts are expected to decrease.

“I think that is a positive,” Collier said. “I think that is something to be pleased about.”

Also, Bibb County school employees have had some furloughs since fiscal 2009. The preliminary budget has no furloughs scheduled for fiscal 2015. Still, Collier stressed the budget is very preliminary and can change. The school board is scheduled to meet again in April and May to further discuss the budget.

In the meantime, school officials are meeting with principals to get an estimate on how many teachers and students might transfer to the pair of new charter schools.

“We’re trying to piece together a budget based on the information that’s available at the time,” interim Superintendent Steve Smith said.

Board member Lynn Farmer questioned how potential changes to the Common Core curriculum could impact the budget. The state’s General Assembly is debating whether to abandon the program.

“If they pull that out from under us, how does that affect us in terms of curriculum and tests?” Farmer said. “It’s worrisome that they’re not going to ... consider unintended consequences if they rush this bill through.”

Board to cooperate with Dallemand investigation

The board unanimously voted Tuesday to fully cooperate with a special prosecutor’s investigation into repeated policy violations by former Superintendent Romain Dallemand from July to December 2012, which were listed in a 2013 audit. The board voted to waive confidentiality of discussions in executive session meetings pertaining to issues identified in the audit. The board also voted to waive the attorney-client privilege so its attorneys can disclose information to the special prosecutor.

A Macon resident addressed the board Tuesday, calling for past board members to step down as a result of the audit findings.

Darren Latch, a local businessman, said those who were on the board from July to December 2012 took an oath and now should resign. During that period of time, Dallemand ordered more than $26 million in technology equipment and services without board approval, the audit says. In several cases, the board approved the contracts after they were made, according to the audit.

“Leave us to pick up the pieces,” Latch said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 744-4331.

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