Johnson City Board of Education Chairwoman Kathy Hall said this year's budget cuts, unlike previous years, will affect what goes on in city classrooms. (Nathan Baker/Johnson City Press)
Johnson City Board of Education Chair Kathy Hall warned that the upcoming school year will be noticeably different from the last if city commissioners enact the citywide spending plan approved on the second reading Friday morning.
After hours of wrangling with proposed property tax increases and program cuts Thursday night, a split vote put forth a $204 million city budget without a tax hike, but which funded only $500,000 of the $3.4 million increase requested by the schools.
“My goal is always to keep cuts as far away from the classroom as we can, but we have done that now for years, there’s no way to keep these cuts away from the classroom this year,” Hall said Friday. “We’re doing the best we can for our students, but next year will be very different than this year.”
With nearly $2.9 million left to lop off the school system’s $60 million of expenses, Hall said nothing is safe. The board will meet Tuesday morning to decide what to cut from a list of personnel, athletics programs, educational materials, technology upgrades or all of the above.
District Finance Director Pam Cox said many of the expenses creating the budget deficit are not new, but were previously funded by grants that are expiring this year.
Academic coaches, paid by state First to the Top Program grants through last year, could be some of the casualties in the staffed positions column.
“My recommendation will be to not take anything out of our fund balance that is not a one-time expenditure,” Cox said. “The board may choose to use some of the fund balance, but it will kill our cash flow.”
At the start of the year, the district will have $4 million in reserves, but the state mandates it retain at least 3 percent of its total budget, leaving $2.5 million able to be spent.
At times last year before property tax allocations were received, Cox said the schools struggled to produce the funds needed to make the $2 million payroll each month.
On several consecutive months, the district asked for and received its monthly apportionment from the city early so teachers and other staff could be paid.
“We’ve actually seen this coming and have been talking with our commission for at least five years,” an exasperated Hall said. “We’ve been staying alive with stimulus money, using our fund balance and federal grants, and this is the year they all end.”
Last year, to balance expenses with revenues, the board postponed the scheduled purchase of social studies textbooks, hoping to be able to buy them in a later year.
According to Cox and Hall, they likely won’t be able to make up the delay, nor will they be able to purchase math textbooks due this year, handing handicaps to teachers who are trying to bring their curricula in line with new state benchmarks and standards.
“There will be some very deep and drastic cuts to our programs to balance our budget,” Hall said. “This will not be an easy meeting.”
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