Schools in the two Walker County school systems are preparing for another round of “austerity reductions” handed down from Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Office of Planning and Budget, administrators said. Systems are also trying to balance out a teacher pay raise from the state that did not include all school personnel.
“We were cut over $2 million in state funds last (fiscal) year,” Walker County Schools Superintendent Roy Sapough said. “We absorbed those cuts.”
“We’re looking at about (another) $2 million shortfall (this fiscal year) due to the reduction in state funds and the state-required pay raise,” Sapough said. “Certainly, I advocate smaller class sizes, but at what expense? I don’t know that we can afford additional class size reduction and what goes with that at this time.”
Perdue, during his January State of the State address, said his budget includes a 2-percent pay raise for teachers and an additional increase for veteran teachers; overall, he proposes a 5-percent pay increase to nearly 75 percent of state teachers.
Chickamauga City Schools Superintendent Melody Stansell said her school system, which is bracing for a 5-percent austerity cut from the state, is also struggling to keep up with changing state requirements. Cuts in the three-school system are projected to be $338,427.
“We are under construction now to accommodate the change and have more classrooms,” she said. “We are adding an eight-classroom wing to the elementary school. It does take time to implement.”
“There are not a lot of options, and you hope that you will not have to eliminate programs or staff,” she said. “In the smaller systems, it takes a toll on us. We are effective in the way we spend money.”
Sapough said Walker County Schools have been expecting and planning for a $1.4 million reduction during this budget year. An additional $600,000 in local tax dollars will fund matching raises to support staff not included in Perdue’s statewide teacher raise.
“The pay raise is mandated by the state,” Sapough said. “Keep in mind that the state reduced our funds, and at the same time gave the teachers a pay raise. It’s like they took money from us (to run the school system) to pay the teachers.”
The teachers’ raise adds to the tax burden shifting from the state to local school systems, he said. Class size reduction requirements set in state House Bill 1187, also called Gov. Roy Barnes’ A+ Education Reform Act, also strain local economies.
The Georgia General Assembly last year lifted the class reduction requirement, and school administrators hope it will extend the relief for another year , Sapough said, adding he hopes they will extend that amnesty through another budget year.
Stansell has been planning ever since the legislature enacted H.B. 1187.
“We knew it would take time,” Stansell said. “I think that the (class size) freeze helped out all the systems. I do think if we are given another year it will make it easier across the state.”
“If you’re going to have less kids in the classrooms, that means you’ve got to have more classrooms and more teachers,” Sapough said. “Most schools in Walker County already have mobile units, so if you decrease class size, you’re looking at adding classroom space.
“I don’t see where we have the funds to make up for the state’s shortfall and add additional classrooms.”
Staff writer Katie Ward contributed to this story