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Superintendent braces school board for state reductions

The Troup County School System is bracing itself for state funding reductions for the next fiscal year.

On Monday, TCSS Superintendent Brian Shumate told the Troup County Board of Education that the school system is scheduled to have two budget hearings, which are required by the state. The budget hearings that were planned were based on projected funding at the time, which included a $2 million budget reduction.

However, Shumate warned the board the state legislature had asked state agencies to prepare for a 14 percent cut of state spending. He said typical state funding for TCSS is about $67.7 million of the school system’s $118 million budget. If there is a 14 percent cut from the state, that will amount to about $9.5 million.

The school system did receive notice that it will receive about $3.1 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“We were told that we could use that money to fill budget gaps as well as reimburse ourselves for expenses that we have incurred as a result of the current coronavirus,” Shumate said.

Shumate said TCSS would have to share some of those funds with private schools in the county, but he expects about $2.5 million to come to the school system.

“Thank goodness we have a healthy fund reserve,” he said. “We had planned on dipping into some for some one-time purchases, but we’re going to need it right now to really steady this thing as we go through this crisis.”

Shumate said the system is preparing for SPLOST receipts to be significantly down in April, May and June due to COVID-19. He said as the school system learns more from the state, it may need to dip into the reserves for about $2 million to $3 million, but he’s not entirely sure.

“Then, the rest of it’s going to come from district staff services and etc.,” he said. “We’ve got to do some more cuts. We’re looking at vacant positions right now and seeing what we can do to save that money, and again, try not to adversely affect classrooms and classroom teachers as much as possible.”

Shumate said it’s going to be tough but all school systems across the country are in the same boat.

He said there are some remedies to offset costs with furlough days and step raise freezes.

“Anywhere we can try to save money we already are,” Shumate said.

He said it would be foolhardy to have public hearings right now because the proposed budget would be based on a landscape that the school system can’t predict.

He expects those hearings to be in June. The state requires school budgets to be passed by June 30, but Shumate said he’s hoping there will be a grace period after the legislature decides on its reduction number.

Shumate said the district is taking all the potential cuts seriously and is working to do what’s right for students.

“We’ll come out of this. We have to manage our way through it,” he said. “And again, I appreciate having the fund reserve right now because it gives us a little bit of peace of mind probably not to make as drastic cuts as some other districts might have to.”

Troup County Board of Education Chairman Kirk Hancock was also thankful for the healthy fund reserve.

“Some have been critical of that, but having that reserve now will enable us to decrease the number of furlough days, which decreases the impact to our teachers who have been working so hard as well as all staff,” Hancock said.

He said $3 million coming out of reserves would save the district about six furlough days.

“In the year when we need every single classroom hour we can get to make up for the disruption of this year, trying to reduce the number of furlough days next year, I think is of paramount importance,” Hancock said.

Shumate said if anything good is coming from the current situation, it’s that K-12 districts are being forced to move forward with online education. He said the district is researching purchasing a learning management system where teachers post assignments. Then, students post the finished work, which will be graded and electronically given back to the students.