Sounding the alarm! Lawmakers are now debating next year's budgets and they say revenue projections are grim. And, the worst maybe yet to come in the 20-11/12 fiscal year. But for now, lawmakers are concentrating on finding enough money to keep state government functioning, save jobs and not damage the quality of education.
It seems it didn't take many words from State Representative James Thomas, (D) Camden, to describe the effect of the state's next school budget. "It hurts." There were cuts in the education budget last year. There were cuts this year and Education Budget Chairman State Representative Richard Lindsey, (D) Centre, says more cuts are expected for 20-11. "Education funding is in a crisis. We've lost more than 20% and that's been devastating." State School Superintendent Dr.Joe Morton says the cuts can't be avoided. "I think what you've done is make the very best of a very bad situation."
Legislators say the situation is so bad the only areas that appear safe are teacher's salaries and programs like the Governor's Reading Initiative and even they are funded at this year's level. Lindsey says that means no money again for computers or new text books. "Textbooks, we're taking masking tape and taping those up and using them again."
And, because of increased medical costs teachers can expect to pay more for health insurance coverage and to cut back on expenses there's also discussion about reducing the number of classroom days if proration is declared again. State Representative Jeff McLaughlin, (D) from Guntersville, has a plan. "For every 1% of proration declared, reduce the number of school days by three days - up to a maximum of five days. However, A.E.A. Consultant and former state Finance Director Henry Mabry doesn't like that idea. "To add insult to injury as far as cutting days that means a direct pay decrease for educational personnel."
And, local superintendents who sat through the committee meeting didn't leave very happy. Elmore County School Superintendent Dr. Jeff Langham was one of those who wasn't smiling."We're moving into a third year of these kind of approaches. It makes the job at the local school systems much more difficult."
And, Auburn City Schools Superintendent Dr. nTwerry Jenkins wasn't pleased either."There's no solution on the horizon of how the problem is going to be dealt with in 12 months when all the federal money is gone, all the rainy day funds are gone. Every local piece that they put in place is going to all come at one time and be gone."
Superintendents also say they are concerned about possible cuts in support personnel like secretaries and janitors. Most of those receive local funding and according to the State Superintendent 59 school systems are already borrowing money to make it through this year.
And, the Governor had hoped extra money would be coming in from the federal government from a jobs bill in congress but it looks that's not going to happen. So, that means a loss of about $345,000,000 dollars the state was counting on for the education budget. @