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Governor expected to declare proration

By Staff
Jonathan Willis
School officials knew it was coming, they just didn't know when.
But an email this week confirmed that Gov. Bob Riley is expected to declare proration for the state's public school system early this week, possibly as soon as Monday.
Education officials have been planning and preparing for the budget cuts for months, but just how they will deal with it is uncertain.
Proration occurs when the governor declares that school tax revenues will not meet projected spending. A declaration of proration is legally required before a constitutional rainy day account of $437 million can be used.
Voters established the rainy day account when they passed the Amendment 1 legislation in November.
Some state school officials are asking that a portion of the account not be used so it could be put toward next school year. But it appears that State Superintendent Joe Morton will use all of the funding.
If that happens, there will be no money in the account that can be used in the next six years.
"There will be no bail out next year," said Franklin County Schools Superintendent Gary Williams. "This will get us through this school year, but next year may be bad."
Morton told the Associated Press that he favors using all the money that's available.
Michael Sibley, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said he does not know if $437 million would be enough to cover the expected gap between the education budget and tax revenues for the rest of the year.
If it's not, state school officials said, some schools will be forced to cut some programs while others see larger classroom sizes.
State officials said the rainy day account would neutralize proration up to 7 percent.
Each percentage point of proration equals $63.7 million in cuts.
Teacher contracts are in force, so proration won't affect salaries or benefits this year. However, the 2009-10 budget will be smaller than this fiscal year's budget and will likely mean some contracts won't be renewed in May.
Russellville Schools Superintendent Dr.Wayne Ray said that state educators had been advocating for Riley to declare proration so that the rainy day fund could be used.
"It would have been great if we didn't have to use it until later in the spring, but we needed it now," Ray said.
The state has been sending local school systems only 75 percent of their funding for the past two months. That left local systems looking for ways to cover the remaining amount.
Ray said the Russellville payroll is $1.4 million a month. Without the other 25 percent, the system has been out $280,000.
With the declaration, local schools will now receive the money from November and December.
"It will really be a big help for the time being," Ray said. "There will be some tough times ahead though."

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