School districts benefitting from recovered state funds

jmink@macon.comMay 5, 2014 

Because the state’s fiscal 2015 budget includes more money for public education than in recent years, some Middle Georgia school employees can expect a boost in their paychecks.

The additional state money isn’t exactly a financial increase for school systems. Rather, it means fewer cuts to the money that local school districts earn, officials say. Still, recovering some state funding likely will mean more school days, fewer furlough days and the return of raises for some midstate school employees.

Next fiscal year’s state budget will include the biggest single-year increase in seven years for K-12 education, according to Gov. Nathan Deal’s office. That increase is mainly due to economic growth in the state, and it includes an additional $514 million in basic state funding for schools.

In Bibb County, that translates to more than $6 million in recovered state funds that would have been cut. As a result, the district’s preliminary budget includes no furloughs for school employees, who have weathered time off without pay since fiscal 2009. The school board is expected to meet again this month to discuss budget details further.

“I think that is a positive,” Ron Collier, the school system’s chief financial officer, said of the recovered funds at a recent school board meeting. “I think that is something to be pleased about.”

In Houston County, the school system will recover about $5.5 million in earned state funds. Officials plan to revive employee income supplements and raises, said Stephen Thublin, assistant superintendent of finance and business operations.

Unlike many other Georgia school districts, Houston County has not enforced furloughs over the years.

Besides their state-funded salaries, teachers in several districts receive local supplements to their income. Due to budget cuts, Houston County has reduced that supplement by $1,000 since 2009. Now, the district will use some of its recovered state money to restore the full supplements.

“All teachers, regardless of longevity, will get a $1,000 increase,” Thublin said.

Additionally, classified employees will receive payback for salary increases they earned, but did not receive, over the past two years. Due to budget cuts, officials were forced to freeze their salaries. Now, officials will catch up those salaries, Thublin said.

“Just about everybody’s getting raises this year,” he said.

The system also will purchase some needed equipment and buy some new textbooks, which it has not done in a while.

While the recovered money will benefit local schools, state funding continues to be a headache for school leaders.

In Houston County, for example, officials still expect more than $13 million in state funding cuts next academic year. That’s money the school system earned, but will not receive due to state budget reductions.

Compared with 2003, Houston County has about $28 million less in state money. That includes primary state funding under the Quality Basic Education program, as well as state grants that have been cut over the past decade, Thublin said.

“It’s a different mind-set than we had years ago,” he said. “Now we’re excited to not get cut as much.”

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