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FRIDAY, JULY 13, 2007
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Finance director: Morgan making budget progress

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

The Morgan County school system is making progress toward rebuilding its savings account while under the cloud of a state mandate, Finance Director Rodger Spillers reported Thursday.

In the first of two public budget hearings for the 2008 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, Spillers said he projects that officials will add about $950,000 while rebuilding reserves to about $2.1 million by the end of the fiscal year.

The school system has been under a State Board of Education mandate since January to rebuild reserves to equal one month of operating expenses, which amounts to about $4.6 million.

Spillers projects the system will have a $72 million budget, including capital spending and federal funds.

As part of a plan on rebuilding savings submitted to the state, in May the board didn't renew the contracts of 45 nontenured teachers, giving school officials flexibility during the hiring process. Spillers said the school system rehired about 30 of these teachers, mostly as state-funded units.

The school system has 44 locally funded teacher units, a reduction of 14 from the 2007 budget.

School board member Tom Earwood said he's glad to hear the system is making progress in rebuilding its reserves.

"We've got to cut corners," Earwood said. "I don't like being under the cloud of a mandate. We need to get that cloud taken away, but then we'll be smarter and more savvy after this experience."

The school system still must find $2.5 million, and possibly more, to achieve the state mandate. Spillers said the amount for one month of operating expenses would probably increase this year.

Most of the schools have only a few local teacher units left, leaving the board less flexibility next year when cutting the budget.

Spillers said he is expecting some revenue increases, including an ad valorem tax that brings in about $500,000 annually. The school system lost that revenue for a year after County Commission and school officials let a deadline pass last September. County voters renewed the tax in January.

He said the growing enrollment should allow the school system to convert some of the locally funded teacher units into state-funded units. He is expecting the state to increase its allotment for retirees' benefits. He said he also hasn't yet budgeted about $700,000 in other revenues.

Superintendent Bob Balch said the board doesn't have to achieve this mandate in one year and the state hasn't set a deadline.

"We're fine as long as we're making the effort and working toward that goal," Balch said.

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