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Gap in school budget likely
Finances among topics at board retreat
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Forsyth County News

CHATTAHOOCHEE HILLS — It’s still early in the budget process, but the Forsyth County school system is facing a preliminary $11.6 million shortfall for 2013-14.

The projections for the $276.7 million proposed budget were among many issues discussed last week during a two-day planning retreat for district leaders at the Inn at Serenbe in southwestern Fulton County.

School board members, Superintendent Buster Evans and other officials were briefed on the financial outlook, as well as the need for facilities and improvements, technology and new state mandates.

Dan Jones, the system’s chief financial officer, said the budget gap was based on the district receiving the same local revenue as its current $270.5 million budget, which originally faced a shortfall of $8.5 million.

To make up the difference last year, the system pulled money from its reserves, or fund balance.

But Jones said that option may not be the best solution this time around, as the fund is projected to total about $38.5 million by June.

He noted that $40 million is the ideal amount to have in the reserves, which serve as a cushion to pay operating costs when there’s a lull in revenue. To pull $11.6 million from that could lead the system to borrow money to cover operation costs.

The 2013-14 budget would represent about a 2 percent rise over the current year. About $3.5 million of the projected increase would fund the 50 new positions needed to handle an anticipated enrollment growth of 1,200 students.

Rising health insurance costs for 1,280 employees likely will add $2.3 million to the budget, with the cost of more than 40 portable classrooms totaling an additional $606,400.

“We know the health insurance is coming. We’ve got to add trailers, we know that, and we’re probably going to have to add teachers,” Jones said.

“Let’s don’t panic right now because this is very, very preliminary. This is just trying to give you a 10,000-foot look at what the possibilities are.”

Getting the information early was a large part of the reason the system holds planning retreats, Evans said.

“If you know where you’re at and you know where you’re going … you can move with confidence into the future,” he said.