By JIMMY ESPY
The Chattooga County Board of Education has some numbers crunching to do.
Although the exact figures won’t be known until August, when the school system receives property tax revenue information from the county tax office, it’s clear the board is facing a sizeable budget shortfall.
Board members will have few options. They can move to cut spending. They could vote to raise revenue by increasing property taxes. Or, they can take the easiest option and fund their deficit by tapping the system’s $4.6 million in reserves.
Acting School Superintendent Jared Hosmer told The News he believes the budget deficit could come in around a half-million dollars. That’s about half the $1.098 million deficit he presented at a budget meeting two weeks ago. Hosmer said the predicted savings came from two main areas — a decision not to purchase a new system-wide reading program for elementary schools and the shifting of several salaries to federally-paid programs.
A board vote on the new reading program resulted in a 2-2 tie on Thursday. That means the program was not added to the 2019-2020 budget. However, the board may vote a second time on the program and a different result could add about $200,000 in spending back to the budget.
“I think one of the main problems we have with the school system now is the need for a reading program,” said Chairman John Agnew, who joined Dr. Julia Houston last week in voting to add the program.
Sammy Ballard and Brad Hayes voted against the new program. Also, Eddie Elsberry will join board next month.
Hayes told The News he was not inclined to support the new reading program for a couple of reasons. He was worried about the additional expense but was also concerned that teachers would not have enough time to train for the system.
Agnew said he believes the reading program is important enough to justify even with the difficult budget situation.
“If we’re going to go with a new reading program, we need to get started,” he said.
Agnew said he was willing to make cuts, but only if they made sense.
“We don’t want to create any hardships or problems for the students,” he said.
Agnew added that there was a possibility the board would vote to use reserve funds to cover any deficit but that in the long term he wants to make cuts that will bring spending in line with revenues.
“I want to balance the budget and we’re still looking for ways to cut it this year,” he said. “But I think – and I am only speaking for myself – that the best thing to do may be to try to get the deficit down to about $500,000 and use our reserves for this year. Then we can come back next year, when we all know more about the budget, and make more cuts.”
Hayes said that he is not interested in raising taxes and making cuts will be difficult.
“Mr. Hosmer and Mr. (Johnny) Worsham have told me that they think we’ve cut about all we can from operations,” Hayes said. “I don’t want to cut people or programs. I think we are going to have to look at what can be cut in the future.”