Houston BOE OKs tentative budget

PERRY — During a short Tuesday afternoon meeting, the Houston County school board approved its tentative fiscal 2010 budget.

As of now, the budget will be about $3.8 million short on revenue, which would call for a 1.06-mill increase in property taxes. That would add $63.60 to the tax bill for a $150,000 home.

But Stephen Thublin, the assistant superintendent for finance and business operations, said the 1.06-mill increase is only a working estimate because the county’s tax digest won’t be available until early July.

“We may need a bigger increase or, if the digest is higher than we expect now, a smaller one,” he said.

Once the digest is set, the board will have to have three public hearings before it can set its millage rate.

The biggest challenge now is finding funding for the school system in the wake of state cutbacks due to the poor economy.

The total budget for the 2009-2010 school year, as presented during Monday night’s work session, is $298.3 million.

Most of that, $216.7 million, is in the general fund, which would cover normal day-to-day operating expenses of the school system. The remaining revenues and expenditures are in the debt service fund, capital projects fund and other programs categories.

Even with approximately $14.3 million in cuts from the fiscal 2009 budget made by the board and staff, the fiscal 2010 spending plan winds up only about $305,000 less than the 2009 budget because of state mandated increases, mostly in teacher salaries, and increased health-insurance costs, Thublin said.

But the system’s certified employees have accepted an across-the-board $1,000 cut in locally-funded salary for the coming year, and there are no cost-of-living wage increases planned for any system employees, he said.

The system also has cut 176 positions.

“We’ve looked everywhere we can to cut expenses because of cuts in state funding this past year and more cuts that are sure to come,” Thublin said.

Board member Griff Clements, the only one to vote against adopting the tentative budget, called on his fellow board members to forgo claiming travel expenses as part of the austerity move.

The board will have a called meeting to adopt the final budget June 25 at the Houston County Career and Technology Center, 1311 Corder Road, in Warner Robins.

Tuesday, the board officially got a new member as Helen Hughes was sworn into office.

Hughes was selected last month by the board to replace Pamela Greenway, the former District 5 member and chairwoman who died in March.

Hughes will serve until the 2010 county elections when voters will choose someone to fill the remaining two years of Greenway’s term.

Hughes has indicated she will run for the office.

“I want to thank everyone on the board for so much warmth and graciousness in taking me in and helping me to get started,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunities and challenges ahead.”

In other action, the board approved Leslie Shultz as the new principal at David Perdue Primary, Marlon Robinson as assistant principal at Bonaire Middle School and Christopher McPhail as assistant principal and vocational supervisor at Perry High School.

To contact writer Chuck Thompson, call 923-6199, extension 235.