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School systems across the state are bracing for serious budget cuts

School systems across the state are bracing for serious budget cuts in light of Georgia’s expected $2 billion revenue shortfall due to the sagging economy. State tax revenues and corporate tax collections are down. Pike County school superintendent Dr. Michael Duncan is bracing for impact on local schools. Georgia will spend about $8 billion to educate 1.6 million children in grade K-12, according to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. Most cuts are reportedly going to be in the state’s Quality Basic Education funding formula which may receive a $275 million cut in 2010. Cuts include a reduction in equalization grants, which provide extra funding to systems with low property tax wealth; and elimination of funding for school nurses, regional education services agencies and National Board certification, which provides a 10% raise for teachers who achieve it. The only increase for QBE proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue is a small one related to a projected increase in student enrollment and training and experience for teachers. Gov. Perdue is reportedly expected to ask for at least 2% more education budget cuts. He has already frozen hiring and raises for state employees. Duncan expressed concern about the proposed state funding cuts. Eliminating schools nurses results in a $74,000 cut to Pike; putting graduation coaches in the QBE funding formula would cost $110,000; and austerity cuts amounts to $539,482. The Homeowner’s Tax Relief Grant, if repealed, would cost Pike $505,000 from the state. This is $217.31 of each property owner’s taxes in Pike covered by the state. Currently the state pays this part of the tax bill and sends a lump sum check to the county. If Perdue has his way, it would return to property owners to pay. Local taxpayers would receive a tax bill in March or April, said tax commissioner Donna Wynn. Duncan said the financial impact on Pike schools could be $1,228,482, which is an increase of 2.46 mills. This means belt-tightening for the local schools. ”We’re certainly willing to do our fair share. We just want everybody to see what the impact will be,” Duncan said. “We’ll have to make some tough decisions and keep the focus on the kids.” He said the administration is looking at every phase of the operation for cost savings. ”We have some places we can lean up and get race ready, but there’s only so deep we can go. We’re committed not to go into our reserves. We need to have that funding for emergencies,” he said. President Barack Obama has included school facilities in his proposed stimulus package nearing $1 trillion. Duncan said Pike is ready for any money that may be forthcoming. The board has revamped its five year facility plan. There will be a site visit in a couple of weeks, then it will be submitted for state approval. ”We’re ready. We’re uniquely positioned to take advantage of any economic stimulus money that may come our way,” he said. Future needs for Pike include 19 classroom additions to the high school by 2014, 30 more elementary classrooms by June 2016 and 12 for the middle school. ”Starting in three years, we’ll be starting back to back construction all the way to 2020,” Duncan said. He projects 4.5% growth for next year.

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