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1-month operating balance 'impossible,' superintendent says

By Nancy Glasscock ∑ 340-2443

MOULTON — Maintaining a one-month operating balance will be "impossible" this year for Lawrence County Schools, Superintendent Dexter Rutherford said.

The Board of Education met Tuesday to discuss the proposed 2008 fiscal year budget totaling $56 million — $13 million more than last year's budget.

The Alabama Department of Education requires school systems to keep a one-month operating balance, which is about $4.4 million for Lawrence County Schools, Rutherford said.

The school system kept a $3.3 million one-month operating balance last year.

"We can't do it," Rutherford said. "Last year, $3.3 million was a struggle. This one-month operating balance is a feat that's getting ever more difficult for us to reach."

Increases in the budget this year are in part the result of a state-mandated 7 percent salary increase for employees, plus an increase in school nurse salaries, he said.

This year, the county school system will pay $182,181 for nurses, while the state will fund $252,819.

"With that salary increase, the system just absorbed a huge hit," Rutherford said.

State monitoring

If the school system fails to maintain a one-month operating balance, the system will be placed on a list of other school systems that are struggling financially and, as a result, are more closely monitored by the state Department of Education, Rutherford said.

Some school systems have been on that list since the state began requiring them to keep a month's worth of funds in reserve two years ago, he said.

"We're going to stay on (the list) until we propose and implement a budget that maintains a one-month operating balance," he said.

"Right now, barring a major cut in expenses, that's a long time on that list."

Rutherford said he talked with state school officials about the Lawrence County system's financial situation.

"Bottom line, they realize for systems like ours, it's going to be extremely difficult," he said. "But we have to propose a plan to meet a one-month operating balance. ... I don't have a proposal that's not going to be extremely painful."

Major items on Lawrence schoolsí budget

Lawrence County Schools Superintendent Dexter Rutherford said the most significant items in the school systemís fiscal 2008 budget are:

A 7 percent cost-of-living raise for all employees.

An increase in insurance costs for employees from $717 to $775 per employee per month, at a total cost of $573,500 per month.

Two distance learning labs at $100,000 each, plus $30,000 to staff the labs per staff member.

In-school suspension aides at each school for $200,000.

$253,080 in general operating money, or $2,000 per school and $40 per student.

Three school resource officers at a total cost of $100,000.

$49,000 in supplements for career technology and athletics.

$27,000 in technology stipends.

$6,000 in local funds for the Oakville Museum.

$22,000 for two additional aides at the Judy Jester Learning Center.

$182,181 in local funds for nurses

$28,000 for a community education coordinatorís salary.

$17,399 in gifted education revenue that will cover 25 percent of one gifted education teacherís salary.

Ad valorem tax of 1 mill equal to $200,736 for salaries, travel and other expenses of the superintendent and board members.

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