Fulton Board of Education members approved a budget for 2011-12 Tuesday night that raises taxes about 3.5% while cutting spending, eliminating more than 20 positions and reducing two academic programs praised for keeping students in school.
The $60.2 million proposal spends $450,000 less than the current budget and, when spending for construction projects is factored out (because the money is reimbursed by the state, dollar for dollar, the next year), is almost the same amount the district spent two years ago.
“The problem we face is a revenue problem,” said Superintendent of Schools Bill Lynch. “It’s not a spending problem.”
In addition to the proposed tax increase, the district will nearly drain its designated reserve fund, using $2 million to lower the need for higher taxes. In addition, revenues will end from the federal stimulus program that were use to save teaching jobs during the recession.
The tax hike and heavy use of reserves are needed because the state has cut, for the second year in a row, the aid it gives to school districts. Districts like Fulton, which are low in property wealth and have a larger-than-average number of students who require expensive special services, suffered larger cuts than districts that are better able to cope with or rely far less on state aid.
Fulton receives about 63% of its revenue from the state.
Among the more than $2 million in budget cuts, the district proposes eliminating five positions due to retirement, in music, special education, English and two in elementary education. Occupied positions to be eliminated include one each in high school math, science, social studies and English; 2.4 foreign language positions; 4 computer teaching assistants and special education teaching assistants. Two administrators will be eliminated, including a teacher-on-special-assignment administrative position that has been responsible for the district’s successful alternative education program.
Over the last three years, the district has eliminated more than 50 positions.
All departments have cut their operating budgets as well.
Along with the damage being done to the alternative education program, which works with students in a special program at the Education Center when those students are not able to work effectively or safely in regular school buildings, the budget eliminates funding for the high school’s Advisory program. The program assigned each student to a teacher who would be with that student each day for all four years of high school to help connect that student to resources and people who can help them learn.
Both programs won praise from students who said it kept them from dropping out of school and the district’s data supported the claim.
Lynch noted that the proposed budget is $1.5 million lower than the state limit on a contingency budget. If the budget is not approved after three votes, the board must adopt a contingency budget. Lynch noted that it was unlikely the board would raise spending in a contingency budget after several failed votes.
The district will hold a public hearing on the budget May 4, prior to the statewide school budget voting day on May 17.
“It’s not where we wanted to be,” said board member Robert Ireland of the budget. “But it’s where we had to go.”