No immediate layoffs planned by RCS
Despite rumors to the contrary, Russellville City Schools has no immediate plans to lay off any school system employees.
Dr. Wayne Ray, city schools superintendent, said there are no plans to cut staff members and contracted teachers cannot be cut from this year's budget, even if the state provides less funding than projected.
The Russellville Board of Education approved a $25.3 million budget last month that projects just over 60 percent – $15.2 million – in state funding.
"All the revenue projections are really bad (for the state budget)," Ray said. "There is so much riding on the constitutional amendment on Nov. 4 – if that doesn't pass and the growth of revenue continues at 1.3 percent, it will mean a loss of funding for (RCS) and we'll have proration around 4 or 4 ? percent.
"If the state foundation units are cut and if the rainy day account doesn't cover through this year, then local boards have to cover the difference. With any contractual employee, you have them for the year and can't lay them off until the May board meeting, and hopefully we won't have to lay anyone off."
Ray said a teacher unit averages about $83,000, including salary and benefits, and that local school boards must pay all local teacher units.
"The state does a fairly good job of funding the elementary level but it doesn't fund grades 7-12 near enough and you have to make up difference with local teachers," Ray said. "With local teachers you have to pay their fringe benefits, which have grown 28 percent, and their salaries. The average salary for a teacher unit is little over $83,000, if you include the benefits.
"When a state raise occurs, the state pays state teachers but local boards have to pay local salaries and benefits. When you have three years in a row of state raises, that means your local budgets increase and you need more local revenue, and (the city council) capped our money starting in 2001.
"Therefore, we haven't grown locally and we cut back in teacher units. This time we don't have 26 units to cut, and it's a tough situation. Our personnel have done a really terrific job with what they've had to work with."
Ray said local boards have two options if there are no reserve funds available – cut the budget or borrow funds.
"The only way we can deal with it is to cut back or borrow money, and once you start (borrowing), you're going backwards," he said. "We don't have a lot of options and when you add proration to it, it compounds the problem and we're running about a tight ship as possible."
But Ray said there are two positive changes in November that could help make up for a budget shortfall. The new Russellville mayor and city council members will take office Nov. 3, and a constitutional amendment known as the Rainy Day Amendment will be on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.
"I'm hoping one of the first things the council does is restore (38 percent funding) because we need it now, and it could really help us start building toward spring," he said. "And people really need to understand that the constitutional amendment is not like borrowing from a bank. It's money from the Alabama Trust Fund that has to be paid back.
"It's not a tax on anyone, and it gives the state more borrowing power from the reserve fund to cover proration. I think if people think it's a tax, they won't vote for it."
Passage of the Rainy Day Amendment, or Amendment One, would allow state officials to expand the existing rainy day education fund and also create a similar fund for the state's general budget. The funds would be financed by the $3.4 billion Alabama Trust Fund, which is comprised of revenue from offshore drilling leases.
During proration, the governor could use up $437 million for the education budget and $188 for the General Fund. The amendment stipulates that the borrowed money must be repaid within six years for the education rainy day fund and 10 years for the General Fund. Proration, which is when state sales tax revenue falls short of budget projections, has affected Alabama seven times since 1980.
"It's tough going through proration but we've had our backs to the wall before, and we'll make it through again," Ray said. "It sure does help when you have a council that supports the schools. And if the constitutional amendment passes, it will cover this year and hopefully the economy will improve in May."