Over the past couple of months the Muscogee County School Board has worked to cut $40 million from the 2014 budget, and now they're one step closer to making it official.
Deciding to close two schools was one of the most stressful decisions the school board members say they've ever had to make, and at the special called meeting they still had lots of questions about next year's budget.
Chief among the cuts for 2014 are the closings of Edgewood Elementary and Marshall Middle Schools, which will save $10 million. Board chair Rob Varner says, "I think my feelings at this point are some degree of sadness in the stress the district, the parents, the students, the two schools we've had to close and gone through to get to this point. It's awful and everybody acknowledges that, but we had to get through that process."
The school district gets $144 million from the state, but has lost almost exactly that amount in the past 12 years.
Interim Superintendent Dr. John Phillips says, "We're just going to have to learn to operate with less and hopefully keep our standards and quality of education at a superior level."
Board members also expressed concern about Reduction in Force plans, which will leave a number of employees out of a job. District 4 representative Naomi Buckner remarks, "We have to look at these kinds of things because some of our employees have been faithful to us over the years, and if they've had good evaluations for 26 years, we have to think about these people."
The budget also calls for a two-student increase in class sizes, the elimination of 60 custodian positions and less than 40 teachers' positions.
Some board members asked if reducing the salaries of those with professional degrees would help offset the deficit, but Dr. Phillips has little faith in gaining back the money they've lost.
"$144 million over the past 12 years," says Phillips, "that's very difficult to make up, and so I think we're going to continue to have to make hard decisions in years to come."
The board will have a public hearing on the tentative budget June 10. They'll vote on the final draft June 17.
The school district also announced that they have expanded the superintendent search by sending an additional 267 notices of vacancy to superintendents around the country. Former Superintendent Dr. Susan Andrews stepped down last summer.
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