Charter schools’ budget impact worries Bibb school officials

jmink@macon.comApril 8, 2014 

The unknown impact of two charter schools still concerns Bibb County school officials as they continue fiscal year 2015 budget discussions.

School leaders estimate a $3.9 million loss to the charter schools that are slated to open next academic year, though the true impact will remain unclear until the school year begins and officials determine exactly how many students are attending those schools, Ron Collier, the school system’s chief financial officer, told the Bibb County school board Tuesday.

The two charter schools scheduled to open in the next school year are the Academy for Classical Education and the Macon Charter Academy.

“That creates some angst,” Collier told The Telegraph, referencing the potential impact of the charter schools. “On a positive note, we do have additional funding from the state.”

Officials on Tuesday discussed the proposed budget, specifically operations spending, during a called school board meeting.

Officials expect more than $6 million in recovered state funds -- austerity funds that had been cut the previous year. And there are no furloughs scheduled for the next academic year.

Still, there are budget concerns. In addition to the charter school impact, school system officials expect a loss due to continued enrollment declines and an estimated increase in district-funded contributions to employee health care plans.

Additionally, no furloughs mean extra expenses. With an estimated increase in operational costs, the budget shortfall would be about $10.2 million, which would be covered by the fund balance. That would leave the district about $12.5 million in reserves.

Still, those numbers are preliminary and subject to change, particularly as officials consider whether to include the departments’ operational funding requests in the budget, Collier said.

Operations spending would increase by 19.4 percent, or $3.9 million, for Bibb County schools if all operational requests are approved in the fiscal 2015 budget. The budget is still in the preliminary stages -- salaries and staffing will be discussed in May. The operations numbers are based on department requests and are likely to change, Collier said.

Some of those requests included changes to the Welcome Center and more funding for arts programs.

There are no new funding requests in the proposed budget for the district’s Welcome Center, as officials look to move registration back to individual schools and restructure the center.

“We’re restructuring the Welcome Center to be more of a welcome center,” interim Superintendent Steve Smith said.

The idea is to transform the building into a heritage center, which would showcase some district memorabilia and offer some professional learning activities, meeting space and general information about the school district. Leaders are still discussing ideas and will present them to the school board, Smith said.

The preliminary operational budget includes fine arts and media center funding, which was cut in last year’s budget. About this time last year, officials were making difficult funding decisions as they grappled with a more than $18 million budget shortfall.

If the requests are approved, the fiscal 2015 budget would restore funding that was cut for musical instruments, instrument repairs and uniforms. The proposed budget would also restore library book funding, which was cut last year.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 744-4331.

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