69 school-based layoffs in MCSD-approved preliminary budget

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comJune 2, 2014 

The Muscogee County School District administration building is at 2960 Macon Road.

MIKE HASKEY — mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

Layoffs of 69 school-based personnel are in the preliminary budget the Muscogee County School Board approved Monday evening. That includes the 31 layoffs the administration announced last month.

Superintendent David Lewis didn’t specify which schools and positions are among the layoffs, but he did note 19 of the layoffs are teachers who lost their jobs because they performed poorly or weren’t fully certified or qualified.

The administration also has reduced 44 district-level positions in Lewis’ reorganization of the central office, but none of those job cuts had people in them because of attrition or reassignments, Kathy Tessin, the district’s chief human resources officer, said after the meeting.

Officials emphasized the layoff number could decrease during the two weeks leading up to the June 16 vote on the final version of the budget because more staff could turn in their retirement and resignation notices.

The preliminary budget for fiscal year 2015, which starts July 1, projects $264,717,610 in expenditures -- $5.9 million (2.2 percent) less than the fiscal year 2014 original budget. The 69 layoffs amount to about $7 million in savings, said Sharon Adams, the district’s chief financial officer.

The budget confirms what the Ledger-Enquirer previously reported about the fate of the Patterson Planetarium. It will close, and the district will contract with the Columbus State University Coca-Cola Space Science Center to teach those lessons.

Despite the district’s school buildings averaging 43 years old and the support buildings averaging 64 years old, the set aside for capital projects has been slashed almost in half, from $1 million to $520,265. Board chairman Rob Varner of District 5 expressed concern the district might not be able to continue to rely on voters approving Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes to pay for such needs.

“It may be that one day the community says, ‘No more SPLOST,’” Varner said.

The current SPLOST expires at the end of this year. Lewis has said he intends to ask the board next year to set a referendum for voters to assess themselves another 1 percent sales tax.

The administration started its budget planning in January looking for between $10 million and $11 million in cuts to balance the budget after another year of increased costs (such as health insurance, teacher retirement system, utilities and textbooks) and decreased state and federal funding.

The budget keeps the millage rate at 23.37 for the 18th straight year and has no furlough days for the second straight year.

The district’s allotment from the state is expected to be $143,550,332, which is about $1 million less than last year, Adams said. Although the district is projecting a 1 percent increase in property tax revenue due to growth in the digest, several counties in the state are experiencing losses in their tax base, so Muscogee will lose $5.2 million in equalization funding from the state, she said.

Overall, the district has lost a total of $155 million in state funding the past 13 years, Adams said – more than a full year’s worth of allotment.

The revenue sources for the district’s FY15 budget are 56.4 percent from the state, 42.3 percent local, 1.2 percent federal and 0.1 percent other.

The expenditures break down like this: 80 percent for instruction and direct support; 10 percent for plant operations; 7 percent for general and administrative; 3 percent for other uses. Those percentages are the same as FY14.

The good news is that the budget uses $10 million of reserve to balance the budget instead of the $20 million originally expected. That would leave $19.7 million of fund balance, which covers about 26 days of operations, Adams said.

The board approved the preliminary budget with a 7-1 vote. Varner, vice chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1, Athavia “A.J.” Senior of District 3, Naomi Buckner of District 4, Mark Cantrell of District 6, Beth Harris of District 8 and county-wide representative Cathy Williams voted yes. Shannon Smallman of District 7 was absent. John Wells of District 2 cast the only no vote.

Wells, who is facing challenger John F. Thomas in the July 22 runoff, proposed not laying off any school-based personnel and using the fund balance to cover the estimated $7 million it would cost to keep them. His amendment to the motion failed; Harris was the only other board member joining him in support.

Through questioning from Williams, Tessin told the board that 10 more school-based employees have received layoff notification in addition to the 31 already announced. So another 28 have yet to get the bad news.

“I hope that we can do this as quickly as we can,” Buckner said, “because there is so much distress, unrest. Even the people you have displaced, they are so nervous and anxious about where they are going. … As soon as we can get the system calmed down, it would just be much better.”

Lewis replied, “This has not been easy on anybody, most particularly the people who are directly impacted. … I can assure you this is not something this superintendent is looking forward to or anybody on my staff. It’s the prudent thing to do, again, as I said at the outset, to ensure organizational health.”

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter

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