Bibb BOE discusses budget, E-SPLOST changes

jmink@macon.comMay 6, 2014 

Bibb County school board members discussed ways to generate more revenue as they heard budget projections for next fiscal year during a called meeting on Tuesday.

For next year, the projected $181 million budget includes a deficit of about $5 million, which would be covered by reserve funds. That would leave a fund balance of about $21.4 million, which still meets the district’s goal. The budget is in good shape, officials said, but future projects show a dwindling fund balance that would be in negative figures by fiscal 2019.

“If we spend more than we take in, we’ll eventually use all of our fund balance,” said Ron Collier, chief financial officer.

The district must increase its revenue or decrease its expenditures over the years -- both of which have limited options, officials said. For example, a large revenue source is state funding. For fiscal 2015, the state is reducing Bibb’s funding cuts by about $6 million, but school districts cannot rely on that to continue, officials said.

Another source of revenue is property taxes, and the school board could decide to increase the millage rate, Collier said. Interim Superintendent Steve Smith said that while he does not recommend doing that this year, it could be a possibility in a few years as the school system’s deficit is predicted to grow.

Furthermore, the district could make some money on real estate investments, Collier said. Some board members questioned the status of leasing space in the board office building on Mulberry Street. Officials plan to soon completely vacate and then lease the first level, and, in the future, use the third and fourth levels for the school district and lease the rest. There are five levels in total, Smith said.

If revenue does not increase, the school district would be forced to cut expenses over the next few years, and the bulk of expenses are salaries and benefits, officials said. The school board recently approved a reduction in force of about 60 positions for next school year. Those are mainly positions that are funded by federal grants, which are ending. Officials plan to offer those employees other jobs within the system, Smith said.

Board member Tom Hudson questioned whether the district could come up with enough money to keep some of those positions, arguing that some -- such as graduation coaches -- are vital to student achievement.

“It’s incumbent upon us to make sure we keep those people in place,” Hudson said.

Smith responded that the jobs were cut because the grant funding ended, and there is no other money to fund those positions.

“You can’t keep the people in place if you don’t have the money for them,” he said.

E-SPLOST project revisions

Board members approved 6-1 revisions to projects funded by the 2010 education special purpose local option sales tax.

The old plan called for the construction of five new elementary schools, but the new plan eliminates the need for two of those schools due to a decline in enrollment. Officials still plan to build new schools for Heard Elementary and new schools at the King-Danforth and Morgan elementary sites.

Under the E-SPLOST revisions, the money that would have been spent on two schools will go toward technology upgrades, school renovations and other projects. The total project costs have been reduced by about $5.2 million in the revised budget, according to facilities director Jason Daniel.

Among the new items in the proposed revision is $7 million for any future land or facility acquisition. The revision also includes $1 million to convert the Bloomfield Middle School building into an elementary school as part of the facilities plan, and a total of $3.5 million for 15 new classrooms at Carter Elementary and 10 new classrooms at Heritage Elementary.

A revised total of $23 million would fund technology upgrades -- that’s about $3 million more compared with the original budget. The revised budget also includes $500,000 to restructure the Welcome Center to include larger meeting space, a heritage area and professional learning and human resources offices.

Additionally, a total of about $8 million would be spent on renovations at Bernd, Riley and Porter elementary schools.

Hudson voted against the revisions. During the meeting, Hudson requested the school board adopt a plan to encourage more minority-owned businesses to apply for and receive school construction and other jobs.

“It’s an injustice to the citizens of this community that we don’t have a plan,” he said.

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