Friday, February 13, 2004

Extent of school budget crunch won’t be known for two months


School system comptroller Keith Chapman is the man in the crosshairs.

With reports circulating that the school system has to trim nearly $11 million from this year’s budget, Chapman has been coming under fire for some of the system’s proposed cuts.

But the comptroller explains that the school system is months away from approving its budget.

“We’re really dealing with a moving target. Nobody really knows how much the system is going to have to cut this year,” he said.

The most bandied-about figure has been between $10-11 million, but Chapman said the school system won’t know until the General Assembly establishes the budget.

Many political observers thought this year’s session would be relatively short, but this week a monkey wrench got thrown into the works.

“Now that they’re going to have to redraw the legislative districts, it could take them even more time to finish the budget,” Chapman said.

When the state’s budget is finally approved, Chapman has no doubt the system will have to cut some programs.

“Nearly 88 percent of our budget is salary and benefits, so there’s not a whole lot of things left to cut,” he said.

The school system’s millage rate currently stands at 18.61 mills. If the system were to raise it to the maximum 20 mills, the system would only gain an additional $3.5 million, which would still leave the system far short of a balanced budget.

“The school board is facing a challenging few months,” Chapman added.

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