Under the plan, each of the state's 180 school systems will lose 2 percent of its planned 2009 state Quality Basic Education funding, with the cuts to come immediately, said Bert Brantley, a spokesman for the governors office.
The state is not immune to the softening economy we are seeing," Brantley said. "We're doing the same things lots of people are doing cutting budgets and making sure what we take in is equal to what we spend."
The Georgia legislature had originally budgeted $21.4 billion in revenues this fiscal year, which started July 1, but state officials quickly sliced that budget by about $245 million because of the sluggish economy.
Recently, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced he would reduce the state budget by another $1.6 billion to keep from overspending.
Many state agencies had already been notified to reduce their budgets by as much as 6 percent.
Walker County government last week began bracing for the possibility that it might lose homestead exemption money provided by the state to keep personal property tax liability low.
School systems, originally thought immune for the budget cuts, heard rumors last week that they also would be hit by the reduction plan.
Walker County Superintendent of Schools Melissa Mathis said of the cuts, Our millage (property tax rate) has been set and the budget has been put into motion. As the governor well knows, the timing is lousy for slashing. We hear reports of slashing, but to our understanding action will be when the legislature convenes. So it may be some time before we know anything that is certain.
The Walker County school board recently adopted a $82.6 million budget, with a majority of the money coming from the state.
Chickamauga Superintendent of Schools Melody Day said, "Times are very hard for everyone with the high fuel costs driving other costs even higher. We had already planned for an auster-ity reduction from the state when building our budget for the current year, but the additional cuts were unplanned and will push our total cuts to several hundred thousand dollars. It takes a great deal of money to operate schools and pay personnel. We are always very conscious of spending out of necessity.
Of the 180 school systems in the state of Georgia, Chickamauga City school system is ranked number 170 in terms of the system wealth this means there are only 10 systems with less revenue. Additionally, the system spends the least amount of money per student to educate of all 180 systems. When dollars are already stretched as far as possible, it is very difficult to make additional cuts, especially when the budget has already been approved for the year.
We are already looking for additional ways to conserve and cut costs. Efficient operations is one of our strategic goals and we will strive to make even more improvements in this area while continuing to provide the highest quality services for our students."
The Georgia Department of Education sent out e-mails to school superintendents informing them about the possible cuts.
Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said state officials won't tell school systems how to cut their budgets, but suggestions had been made.
Possible cuts to budgets may include less travel for teacher training, Cardoza said.
School systems are already struggling with increased education costs, leaving officials clueless as to how they will stretch the dollars from their already-approved school budgets a little further.
Mathis said the Walker school system will continue to place the needs of the students first. In Walker County we will continue to operate to educate all students and provide all services possible for improvement. We will conservatively utilize our funds, with an eye to next year's budget and the increasing daily demands placed on our budget. We target all dollars to improving our schools and our graduation of all students. We are hopeful education will be valued by decision-makers, Mathis said.
Chickamauga Superintendent of Schools Melody Day could not be reached for comment.
Brantley said of the cuts, "These are things you have to do when you encounter an economy like this."
Don Foley, spokesman for Northwestern Technical College in Rock Spring, said, We are still waiting for what the exact scenario will be in the way of cuts if at all. Well probably know a whole lot more as we make our way through next week though.
Brantley said of the shortfall that cuts would mean for education, "Obviously this isn't a situation anyone wants to be in. Under the circumstances, we have to cut, and the governor made the decision to cut education less than everyone else."
Mathis described the budget uncertainty by saying, I suppose the best statement to this situation is one that another superintendent shared this weekend: This is a frustrating situation because there has been no official word from the governor's office or anyone else at the state level. It is sort of like trying to balance your checkbook in the dark, and the bank won't tell you how much money you have.
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