Education

Bibb BOE talks budget at public hearing

The Macon-Bibb County school system budget isn’t quite where it should be for the next fiscal year, but a plan is in place to fix that.

The district has an estimated $198.8 million in expenditures from its general fund for the fiscal year beginning July 1, with an expected final balance of $11.7 million. That comes to 6.26 percent of the total fund -- less than the 8 percent required by board policy.

“We have a plan to bring us back up to the 8 percent in the next couple years,” said Ron Collier, the district’s chief financial officer.

That plan includes a focus on a couple of specific areas of expenditures, although Collier pointed out that a bulk of the district’s increase in expenses came through payroll and an added financial commitment to benefits.

“We will watch our expenditures,” he said. “A couple things we’re going to tackle is travel and what we call service contracts.”

Based on projections in the package Collier presented at Tuesday’s public hearing, the final general fund balance would get back over 8 percent after the 2017-18 school year. Superintendent Curtis Jones gave the plan his verbal approval.

“I do believe the plan Mr. Collier alluded to will be successful,” he said.

With all funds considered, the total expenditures were projected to reach $286.3 million with a final fund balance of $23.3 million.

The board also heard from Witt Gaither, chairman of the governing board for the Academy for Classical Education. While he said he was glad to be “on the team” in Bibb County, he expressed concerns with the process for funding operations at ACE.

Heading into the 2015-16 school year, the plan is to have the school’s counts of gift need and special needs students re-evaluated after the state counts were released in October.

That didn’t happen, Gaither said, noting the school didn’t receive a mid-year allotments sheet from the state.

“Those are the things that we couldn’t calculate when we started the school last year,” he said. “I’m fully confident that they’ll make it right because the money follows the child.”

The board will next discuss the budget June 18 during committee meetings at 4 p.m. ahead of a potential final adoption at the regular meeting at 6 p.m.

Charter schools also were a big topic for discussion during the work session to discuss a pending local option sales tax. Board members discussed the potential to add projects at the county’s existing and future charter schools to the list of those covered by the tax revenue.

Projects at ACE, Macon Charter Academy and state charter Cirrus Academy should all be included, board member Tom Hudson said.

“Regardless of what route they went, they’re still our students,” Hudson said.

Jones agreed to reach out to Cirrus Academy’s organizers for a potential meeting, but other board members were against including the school. While board member Jason Downey said he would only vote for a sales tax proposal that inlcuded ACE and Macon Charter Academy, he didn’t extend the same consideration to Cirrus Academy.

Because Cirrus receives additional funding from the state and did not establish a relationship with the Bibb County school board, Downey said there is no reason to give funding to a school that could bring in students from other counties.

“This other charter school decided to bypass us and go directly to the state,” he said.

The very concept of providing sales tax funding to charter schools presents issues. ACE requested potential building additions for a gym and other special classroom spaces, but those buildings would need to come with a caveat.

“If the charter goes away, you have to have a way to get the property back,” Jones said.

First-year board member Daryl Morton said that would be difficult since the district doesn’t own the land on which ACE operates.

“Our options are very limited on what we can do,” he said.

Regardless of how the situation is handled, Downey said it is important to reach a carefully considered resolution. With charter schools becoming more prevalent across the state, Bibb County’s handling of the local sales tax could put the board under a microsope.

“I think people are going to watch what we do in Bibb County with this,” he said.

Board members agreed to have a general provision for funding charter school projects added to the proposal. The board will vote on a resolution for sales tax funding at its next meeting on June 18.

To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331.

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