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RCS board, council hold joint meeting

By Staff
Kim West
The Russellville City Schools Board of Education requested additional funding in a three-hour joint meeting with the city council at the RCS Central Office Thursday night.
Superintendent Dr. Wayne Ray made two requests after reviewing the system's enrollment, demographics, academic achievement and current and past finances with the five new city council members and first-time Mayor Troy Oliver, who took office Nov. 4.
Ray asked the council to allocate 38.3 percent of the city's 3 percent sales tax revenue, an amount that was approved in 1977, but was changed in 2005 by the city council.
The council voted to cap the amount to $1 million annually and required the system to pay for the school resource officer, Foster Grandparents Program and any bond indebtedness that exceeds the amount of ad valorem tax revenue.
"We request the restoration of 38.3 percent funding because we know we can operate within that number even though it might take years to get back to our previous reserve level," said Ray, who is retiring in December. "I was also told by the council last year to put in our budget $500,000 from the city, which we haven't received yet.
"We got $227,000 but it wasn't money we could use to pay payroll – $15,000 went to the band trip and $22,000 went the basketball program. I'm for supporting sports and the band, but I'm for paying the teachers first."
Despite the passage of Amendment One Nov. 4, which will allow the state Department of Education to borrow up to $437 million from the Alabama Trust Fund, school systems statewide are still facing funding shortfalls due to lower tax revenue.
Last month the RCS system, which has less than the state's mandated, one-month operating reserve, took out a 30-day loan to fund its payroll after the state sent only 75 percent funding for October. RCS received the remainder of its October funds Nov. 7, but school employees had to be paid by Nov. 1.
"We borrowed $200,000 for the first time in 43 1/2 years to close out the year," said Ray, who is retiring next month. "It is essential that we have that 38.3 percent to operate, or we will have to cut back.
"Cutting back would mean larger classes, which puts tremendous pressure on teachers and leads to lower achievement and lower accountability with the state."
Ray said if the system had to make payroll cuts immediately, 20.93 units would be lost before considering retirements. However, Alabama school systems cannot layoff personnel until the end of the school year.
"If we had to do it today, we would lose 21 units, and that's tough with the demographics we have. We haven't looked at any (individual) personnel yet – just the numbers right now."
Oliver pledged the support of the council for the school system but didn't make any specify a funding amount since the city hasn't approved its 2008-09 fiscal year budget yet.
"We're totally committed to standing behind the school system and agreeing to do what we've been elected to do," Oliver said. "I'm not going to promise it's going to happen this year, but we'll do everything we can to help."