Houston County schools again working around austerity cut

PERRY — Houston County schools will be operating with less money than the state funding formula would actually dictate next school year, but officials have come to expect that.

Districts across the state have been experiencing “austerity cuts” in the state Quality Basic Education funding since 2003. The 2015-16 cut will be about $8 million, said Stephen Thublin, assistant superintendent for finance and business operations.

He said that was a smaller cut than in years past, but it is still money that won’t be going to Houston County students.

“There still is an austerity cut of $8 million, and we continue to work around that,” he said.

The school board discussed the cut at Monday’s work session and will vote on final approval for the budget at Tuesday’s regular meeting at the board office in Perry. In all, the district has lost an estimated $152 million in austerity cuts since 2003 and a total of $273 million when grants are included.

Despite that, the proposed budget projects a $21.2 million balance in the general fund after $236.7 million in expenditures for next school year. That remaining balance matches the amount expected to be left when this fiscal year ends on June 30, about $1 million more than was projected this time last year.

“We’re going in the right direction,” said Superintendent Mark Scott. “Austerity cuts or not, you can’t continue to spend more than you take in.”The district is also trending in a positive direction in the process of hiring teachers. In June 2014, there were 59 openings for certified teachers in Houston County, compared to just 28 this year.

Deputy Superintendent for Administrative Services Cindy Flesher attributed that shift to the board’s efforts to expedite the contract process and give principals final clearance to make hiring decisions prior to the county’s teacher recruitment fair in March.

“That’s a good idea,” said board Vice Chairman Fred Wilson.

In addition to updates to the county’s discipline policy, the board will vote to allow a lease purchase agreement for a little more than $92,000 worth of band equipment for the Perry High School program. Because the band has been growing in Perry, it needs tubas, mellophones and other costly instruments.

“They need to buy capital equipment,” Thublin said. “They’re just so expensive.”

Paying off the deal will eventually fall on Perry High, with an interest rate of 3.5 percent through Bank of Perry, but the agreement must be handled by the school board, Thublin said.

To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331.