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School System Is Facing Shortfall

Prior to last Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Board of Education, a work session was held which was largely focused on the budget for the upcoming school year.

In his last meeting as Director of Schools, Matt Eldridge informed the board that according to current projections, this will be the first year that a budget deficit will require the system to pull from the General Purpose Fund. Due to decreased funding caused by lower enrollment numbers, combined with several big ticket items on the books, current projections show a potential $528,000 shortfall.

“We’ve been fortunate, every other system around us has had to take from (their) fund balance, this is the first year we’ve had to take out,” he said.

Budget Director Donna Elder explained to the Enterprise that the school system’s General Purpose Fund currently holds a surplus of approximately $5 million.

“Matt has been very frugal,” she said. “We haven’t had a budget in the last five years that I have been here that wasn’t balanced.” She explained that in recent years when the system has received funds from various sources, including grants and stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, some was spent on scheduled projects but a significant portion was allocated to the General Purpose Fund for “a rainy day.”

 Five million dollars sounds like quite a bit, but school board member Lenard Ledbetter pointed out that the system currently spends around a million dollars a month on payroll and insurance.

The large expenditures in the current budget provide for the county to replace aging school buses, state-mandated online testing software, infrastructure and maintenance outlays, and a continued expense from a nutritional program which requires students to be served unwanted food items.

“This food program is going to kill us,” said Eldridge, informing the board that they had been required to spend an additional $150,000 on food, which “goes straight in the trash.” According to him, in previous years the food budget was anywhere from breaking even to “maybe an extra $200.”

Also coming down the pipe is a decrease in federal money for teacher aides, which the local system must now pick up, and the Affordable Care Act (colloquially known as “Obamacare”) requiring the system offer insurance for non-certified personnel. (Overton County already does this voluntarily, however the ACA may require changes to the program based on individual incomes.)

The budget must be finalized and approved by Sept. 30 to comply with state requirements. A called meeting was set for June 21 at 6 p.m. to focus exclusively on breaking down the budget and finding ways to mitigate this deficit. This meeting will be broadcast on the Livingston Enterprise Livestream page.

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