The Pickens Board of Education received an update on budget preparations ahead of Thursday’s meeting including possible cuts to negate any shortfall from the pandemic. Amy Smith, Chief Financial Officer, met with the board Wednesday to go over the progress. Like other schools in Georgia, Pickens County hasn’t gotten any official information from the state and federal governments on how their budget will be impacted by the pandemic.
“We put this budget together as if school will start normally,” Smith told the board. “We don’t know anything. We’re hearing crickets. We haven’t heard cuts, but we haven’t heard about our allotments, either.”
She said based on the rumored 11-percent cut, the school would lose about $2.7 million and while
She said the system would get $747,600 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, but it wouldn’t come close to making up the loss.
“Categorical grants for special education and vocational grants will probably get it,” said Smith. “These numbers could be affected. Until the legislature makes a decision, it’s all up for grabs.”
She said they’ve worked hard to not touch funds for learning, but if it comes to it, they may have to.
To learn more about Pickens County Board of Education and Finance Department, click here.
Not cutting positions, but not replacing staff who leave
She said they are seeing some relief in attrition, by not replacing employees who leave either through retirement of going elsewhere to work.
“The principals have come to us and said let them look to see what they can do,” she said. The result has been not replacing teachers and staff who already left.
Moving expenses to different pots
In some cases, they have been able to move expenses to different pots of money. One instance is how they use CARES, which is a federal grant.
“We can’t pay people in certified positions with it or we’ll lose money,” she said. “But we can move utilities to them.”
She added she was able to take a significant amount from Maintenance and Operations and move it to the CARES fund. She also explained that there were federal requirements to set aside funds for private schools, which she is confident will be claimed.
Her staff is also looking into what expenses can be transferred to Special Local Option Sales Tax or SPLOST. One expense they can move to SPLOST is technology, which was about $52,000.
“We don’t normally like doing that,” Smith said.
Read about Thursday's BOE meeting here.
“Property taxes has been our biggest hit,” Smith said.
She said they’ve collected $115,000 but need $400,000. The Quality Basic Education Act makes up half of the income for the system, but Smith cautioned that if they didn’t collect any property taxes.
“We won’t have anything to carry over into the next budget,” Smith said.
Smith said SPLOST revenue has been up and down.
“It went up in March, then down in April, but shot up this month,” she said.
It’s been the same with sales tax on vehicles.
Some expenses shouldn’t be touched, said Smith.
State mandated salaries and benefits are such expenses. She said they plan only to implement what the state requires.
“We have money set aside for teachers working toward another certificate,” said Smith.
She also said she’s allowed for five positions to cover if a teacher goes out on maternity or sick leave.
“I’ve allowed for five positions, averaging about $62,000 each,” she said. “We may have to touch those, but if we need a new teacher, we’ll have to come back and ask for funding.”
Then, there are new expenses due to the pandemic. Personal protection equipment is needed for modified school. Thermometers are critical and expenses, said Smith. Given that they have spent $20,000 on hand sanitizer and disinfectant.
Watch Rick Townsend’s comments on returning to school on Aug. 3 here.
She said they didn’t budget enough last year for special education pre-kindergarten teacher salaries, which added $27,000 to the budget.
Using Northstar Program for students who need those services will increase by $60,000 to $260,000 from $200,000. This amount could fluctuate based on the number of students in the program.
Salaries for art, physical education and foreign language teachers increased by $300,000.
The new Response to Intervention or RTI program will cost $48,000 instead of $27,000 for kindergarten through eighth-grade. She anticipates the high school will see a similar increase to $22,000 from $12,000
Smith said about 1,100 or 25-percent of the students would like to remain virtual.
“We have a committee to look at this. They have to do an impact report so we can see how it affects the budget,” she said.
Patrick Shea, the school’s Chief Technical Officer, has narrowed virtual learning platforms down to two and those are being evaluated by teachers to determine which one would be best. Smith said they estimate the cost to be around $40,000.