HamCo School Brd Mtg Photo-4572.JPG

More than 150 people gathered for a town hall meeting on school budget cuts for Hamilton County.

- Joyce Marie Taylor
Suwannee Democrat

Hamilton County School Superintendent Martha Butler told a packed house at a Town Hall meeting Monday night that the District is facing a $1.5 million budget shortfall for the 2011-12 school year.

The Town Hall was held at Central Hamilton Elementary School.

More than 150 people listened to the sobering facts being presented.

Butler reminded everyone that this was “not a decision-making evening,” but rather a time to dispense information to the public.

“We are being faced with a catastrophic cut by Tallahassee,” Butler said.

School districts across the state are deeply concerned about the proposed budget submitted by Governor Rick Scott, which outlines deep cuts to public education with a proposed cut of $3.3 billion statewide.

Since 2007, Hamilton County has suffered $3,500,000 in budget cuts, according to Butler. Additionally, they received a penalty of approximately $65,000 this school year for failing to meet the class size amendment requirements.

However, if the District complied with those requirements, it would have cost the District more.

“It would have cost the district in excess of $1,000,000 to comply with the class size reduction requirement,” Butler stated.

Bonnie Penner director of business services for the school board explained statewide solutions that have been suggested in order to meet the budget shortfall.

“Another $1.5 million dollars of significant changes need to me made,” Penner said of Hamilton County’s budget. “It’s not just a matter of making cuts. There have to be changes in order to affect this large of a cut.”

Among them were possibly the elimination of extra-curricular activities, reduction and elimination of non-core programs such as high school electives, elementary arts, music and P.E.; discontinuation of transportation for students within two miles of school, as well as furloughs and pay cuts.

Options to cut the budget for Hamilton County Schools were shown on an overhead projection screen through a PowerPoint presentation. Among the cuts were two-day furloughs which would save $60,000 per day in salary and benefits; staggering school start times which would save $132,500; moving 6th graders to the high school to save $127,500; and discontinuing the activities bus to save another $18,000. The total possible savings of these cuts would amount to $402,600, which still leaves another $1,097,400 left to cut.

Other reductions mentioned were the closing of Panther Success Center for a savings of $65,000. Panther is a structured residential treatment program for low and moderate risk males that provides on-site academic programming, a GED curriculum, vocational assessment and job skill development.

Yet another suggested budgetary cut was discontinuing the Culinary Arts transportation bus for a savings of $10,000, which if added together with other cuts, would still leave an additional $1,022,400 remaining to be cut.

Penner stated that six percent of the total budget for Hamilton County Schools is spent on energy, as compared to the state average of three percent. She went on to say that 52 percent of the budget is spent on student instruction, as compared to the state average of 70 percent.

Even more preliminary budget cuts suggested were to move Greenwood students to existing schools to save an estimated $145,000. Operating two elementary schools could save $650,000 and operating only one elementary school would save approximately $1,350,000.

Butler has formed an advisory council to begin long-range planning for the District.

“It is imperative that the District’s finances reflect the best business practices and careful long-range planning and reassessed on an ongoing basis,” Butler said.

 

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