Bibb schools pass budget; public warned to expect ‘dark times ahead’

When it comes to funding in the near future, the public should expect “dark times ahead,” Bibb County school Superintendent Sharon Patterson said Wednesday.

The Bibb County school board adopted its 2010 general operating budget Wednesday night that projects spending about $187 million, but there are a lot of uncertainties about how much local and state revenue will be generated in the fiscal year ahead, which starts July 1.

During the meeting, for example, school board member Albert Abrams got an alert on his cell phone that the governor’s office had asked all state departments to cut 3 percent of their budget in July, which left school officials even more antsy.

“It’s a changing daily landscape,” Patterson said. The possibility of future cuts causes “uncertainty for the employees of the district and for the families we serve. It’s very unpredictable.”

The spending plan for the 2009-10 school year calls for $162.9 million in salary and benefit expenses and $22 million for school operation costs.

To save costs, the system trimmed about $3 million in pay for the coming year. Cuts included 81 teaching positions, eight central office employees, 21 other certified positions, such as counselors, and 15 classified positions, such as paraprofessionals.

The school system plans to collect about $104 million in state funds in the coming school year, $76.9 million in local funds and about $6.6 million in federal funds.

If a new countywide property revaluation goes according to plans, a new tax digest could generate more in local taxes for education in 2010. The system projects a $5.4 million increase in property taxes, according to the budget, and there could be a millage rollback from 19.79 mills to 16.22 mills to compensate for higher property values.

But those are just projections, Patterson said.

“The big thing is what will happen with the revaluation,” she said.

The system’s ending fund balance for fiscal year 2010 is projected at $12.4 million, which was higher than the $9.1 million ending reserve in the 2009 fiscal budget but still well below the $21 million school officials consider healthy.

A public hearing was held Wednesday to allow residents to address any budget concerns, but no residents spoke.

Afterward, the board voted 5-1 to approve the budget, with board member Gary Bechtel as the lone opposing vote.

Bechtel said he didn’t feel comfortable approving a budget not knowing the source of revenue and whether there could be a full or partial millage rollback.

Susan Sipe and Ella Carter were absent.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.