Fayette School System grapples with budget

The fiscal year for the Fayette County School System is winding down and budget talks for the new school year that begins in July are about to get underway. As it stands now, the school system, due to ongoing personnel savings, is expected to end the fiscal year with as much as $8.8 million in its fund balance. And while those numbers are significant, they will not forestall the massive cuts facing the Fayette County Board of Education.

The school system by February showed a total savings of $6.1 million in budgeted expenditures since the fiscal year began in July. Of that amount, $3.344 million came in salary savings, $1.863 million in savings on benefits and another $888,129 in operations cutbacks.

Revenues through February showed the school system positioned at $472,095 under budget. Year-to-date totals are running ahead of expectations on vehicle taxes at $645,011 but under budget expectations at minus $1.6 million in property tax revenues.

The projected fund balance for June 30 was estimated in February to be $7.612 million, though Assistant Superintendent of Business and Personnel Management Tom Gray said Friday the final fund balance on June 30 could be in the range of $8.8 million.

That increase is expected to come by way of further savings in personnel and through a $956,000 mid-term adjustment in additional state QBE (Quality Basic Education) dollars.

The school board last year adopted a budget that showed a July 1 beginning fund of $800,000, but Gray said that figure turned out to be $1.8 million after all expense and revenue figures were tallied after the fiscal year ended on June 30.

Addressing the continuing savings in personnel, interim Superintendent Dan Colwell and Deputy Superintendent Sam Sweat said recently the savings are being generated from not filling personnel positions as they become vacant during the school year.

Colwell said some position vacancies, such as a chemistry teacher, must be filled with a regular hire with benefits. But many others that must be filled can be accomplished by hiring long-term certified substitutes with no benefits. Still other vacant positions can go unfilled for the time being, Colwell said.

When it comes to cost-cutting and the resulting savings generated during the current school year, the vast majority of those dollars are found in personnel. The reason is simple, as approximately 91 percent of the school system’s expenses are in personnel. A smaller portion of savings throughout the school year are being realized through other expense categories.

Despite the projected ending fund balance and the approximate $3.2 million in savings that will come from closing four schools, the school board will still be required to adopt a budget that this year had $14 million more in expenses than revenues.

And to top it off, the school board will be faced with the prospect of building in a significant fund balance into the budget since there is no guarantee that either property tax dollars or state dollars will increase next year.

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