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School district tightening belt
Deeper cuts in spending possible
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Forsyth County News

Despite five new campuses set to open in August, staff has managed to cut nearly $1.8 million from the Forsyth County school system’s proposed budget for the coming year.

“Wherever we could make adjustments without interfering with the quality or education programs at the schools, we made adjustments," Financial Director Dan Jones told the school board during a work session Thursday.

Still, the fiscal year 2010 budget is over by nearly $5.2 million.

The board will vote on the tentative budget May 21, before approving a final plan in June.

The proposed budget shows a 2 percent drop in spending for instruction, which accounts for nearly 72 percent of the system’s operating budget.

The district has been able to save nearly $6.2 million in instructional staff, in part, by staffing the new schools with personnel from existing schools.

Facing an overall decline in sales and property taxes, counties, school systems and the state have been left with few options but to cut expenses.

In Forsyth, officials learned, ad valorem taxes are projected to fall by about $5.8 million from 2009 to 2010. Interest from income is projected to drop from $1.5 million to $350,000 and sales tax collections continue to decline.

There are some anticipated expense increases with the new schools, including transportation, new school administration and media services.

The proposed budget was drafted without having received the county’s tax digest, which is used to determine revenue from property taxes.

Finance director Dan Jones said that may offer some hope.

“We don’t have a very good estimate," he said. "We’ve heard a couple of different things from different people, so what I’ve done right now, to be on the conservative side, is we built this with a 5 percent reduction in the digest.

"If the digest comes in with no growth or a little bit of growth, we’ll be jumping up and down.”

The estimated reduction would total about $5.8 million, Jones said. So if next year’s digest is similar to that of 2009, it could cover the school system’s $5.2 million shortfall.

If it doesn’t cover the balance, Jones said, possible options include more cuts or to pull the difference from reserves.

Jones noted the proposed budget does not call for raising the millage rate, the formula by which property taxes are calculated. The current rate is about 15.4 mills, with 1 mill equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value.

“2009 has been one of the most difficult years to work with that I’ve encountered in all my years of doing this,” Jones said. “We’re still projecting a growth in student population, so we’ve got some dynamics here working that most systems don’t have.”

In 2010, the system is anticipated to have nearly 33,500 students, an increase of about 870. Though an increase in students means some additional funding from state sources, it’s not enough, Jones said.