School district working on extremely tight budget

In recent years, Madison City Schools have faced repeated proration and cuts to their available funds. Now they face devising a budget for the upcoming school year that may prove the tightest yet.

School Superintendent Dee Fowler says that one particular challenge for the 2012 year will be accounting for the opening of the new James Clemens High School, still under construction.

“Our budgets run from October 1 to September 30,” he said. “So knowing that James Clemens High School will be on board next year, two months of its operating budget has to come out of this budget that we’re working on now. There are quite a few challenges that we’re looking at as we prepare for this budget.”

Chief among those challenges will be continuing to keep budget concerns out of the classroom, something that Fowler and the entire school system have worked tirelessly to avoid. In the past, cuts were accounted for by taking care to spend only on what was necessary. Avoiding unnecessary maintenance, cutting travel expenses and training more staff in-house have all contributed to the relatively small effects of proration seen by students.

“That’s still a goal,” said Fowler, but this time around there will be an additional hurdle. “Obviously, when the state released their budget for the coming year one thing they did was raise the divisors, which means less teachers coming to us from the state. We’re trying to figure out how to deal with that now and we’ll see how we can minimize the effects of that.”

The schools may be dealing with cuts to funds and personnel, but Fowler believes that the state has taken a step in the right direction by passing the Rolling Reserve Act earlier this year.

“I think they made a very proactive step this year when they went to the Rolling Reserve Act. We’re very hopeful and think it’s a positive step to start eliminate proration.”

The new system of budgeting effectively takes some of the guesswork out of the process, and thus creates more stability from year to year.

Fowler was also quick to remind residents that all the measures the school system is currently taking are, essentially, being improvised.

“Everything that’s being done now is an anomaly because we’ve never been in a recession like this before. We’re learning as we go and we’re hoping that part of this learning curve will be the Rolling Reserve Act, that it will present a yearly budget to school districts that will not have to be prorated.”

The budget should be completed by late summer, Fowler said, with the target being sometime in the August time frame.

By Drew Woolley