School board presented with “challenging budget”

The Madison City Board of Education had its first reading of the proposed 2018-19 budget last week. Chief Schools Financial Officer Jana Gray gave an overview of the plan at the Aug. 9 Board meeting.

The Board will study the proposal for a final vote before the fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The spending plan projects an estimated 4 percent increase in revenue. However, growth-related spending demands make it a very challenging budget.

Madison City Schools continues to rank far below most school systems in Alabama in per-pupil expenditures (82nd out of 137) at $9,339 per student. The state per pupil expenditure average is $9,671.

The school district’s debt load is also disproportionately higher, with mortgages on so many schools due to historic rapid growth and not a broad enough tax base to stay ahead of it.

With a total debt load at $156.26 million and pupil-teacher ratios continuing to be among the highest in the state, board members warn new revenue is needed for additional schools and teachers or education quality will decline.

“We are so house poor,” said Board President Ranae Bartlett. “We’ve really got to fix this.”

Gray’s budget presentation included slides showing the historic growth of Madison schools, from a 5,500-student system in 2,000 shortly after it began to over 11,000 students today.

The budget also showed funding comparisons to peer systems like Homewood – and even Colbert County – with far higher local tax support.

The budget shows 51 percent of revenues coming from the state, 36 percent from local, 5 percent from federal and the rest from other sources.

Gray’s report reflects a heavy emphasis on instructional spending (76 percent), with 9 percent going to operations and support, 4 percent each to transportation, administration and debt, and the remainder to other areas.