Although CFO Mike Addison in January projected a budget shortfall of $20 to $35 million, he said Monday that the district is receiving more reliable property tax revenue projections from the county, and "it has gotten worse."
He will update the board at its Wednesday meeting.
Superintendent Fred Sanderson said he plans to present a budget to the board in late April. Sanderson warned board members that fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1, will likely prove to be especially difficult because the federal stimulus money is gone.
"Keep in mind that even three or four years ago, FY12 was always the dreaded year, and that's where we are because there's no stimulus money ... that's all gone away," he said.
Sanderson and his staff will create the budget on a property tax millage rate of 20 mills, like they did last year, with the assumption that the board would again vote to use excess funds from SPLOST II to buy down the millage rate to its current rate of 18.9 mills. Board Chairwoman Alison Bartlett appointed Vice Chairman Scott Sweeney as the board's budget liaison.
When Kathleen Angelucci questioned the legality of buying down the millage rate - since not all of the projects in the second special purpose local option sales tax have been completed - SPLOST chief Doug Shepard said it is legal as long as the money is already encumbered, which is the case.
The district previously announced it expects to maintain its current staffing and again delay salary step increases for all eligible employees for a half year. The district is required to send out all of its teacher contracts by May 15. The FY12 budget, which has to be approved by June 30, will include a 175-day school year again next year and five furlough days for all eligible employees.
David Banks questioned the district's anticipation of furlough days, saying that Gov. Nathan Deal has been very adamant about not imposing any more furlough days on teachers.
Sanderson doubted that the district would be able to slash furlough days.
"Mr. Banks, I can't read the governor's mind, but he hasn't indicated how they're going to fund that," Sanderson said.
Addison said the transportation budget for FY11 is $42.6 million. Of that, the state funds $5.2 million. Addison expects another mid-year cut of about $350,000.
Although the state funding assumes that the district will pick up students who live no closer than 1.5 miles from a school, the district has its own pick-up formula for safety reasons. Elementary students are picked up half a mile from school, while middle and high school students who live a mile away are eligible for bus pick-up. The district has roughly 950 bus drivers, with 78 percent of students eligible to ride the bus.
Chief Technology Officer Chris Ragsdale said increased costs of oil might equate to a higher transportation budget in FY12.
The school district and Cobb Government participate in the North Georgia Fuel Cooperative to obtain the best possible fuel prices for high volume purchase. Addison said the procurement department has obtained other bids for fuel costs through the past few years, but has concluded that the co-op is the best option for the district.
Although the district cut 2,500 bus stops in 2009, Sanderson discouraged the board from doing the same thing next school year to balance the budget, saying that the district has likely done all it can to maximize bus routing efficiency.
"And I think it's kid's safety first, and if we have to pick them up, we'll pick them up, we don't care if they live 100 yards from the school," Sanderson said.
While the budget for food and nutritional services is largely funded by its own self-supporting fund, it does reimburse the general fund approximately $2.4 million each year for things that are paid for out of the general fund, like maintenance and repairs and pest control.
Addison compared the food and nutrition program to running more than 100 individual restaurants in the district, saying that its budget for FY10 was $48.8 million in revenue and $47.7 million in expenditures. Last year alone, the district served 12.1 million lunches and 3.1 million breakfasts.
Despite the rising cost of food, Addison said, the district has been able to keep its lunch prices for students steady for the last nine years, at $1.60 for lunch at elementary schools, $1.75 for lunch at middle school and $1.85 for lunch at high school. Breakfast costs at all school levels have remained at $1 for all school levels.
Addison said the district could face a potential threat to its meal costs because the USDA may soon require districts to charge as much for full priced meals as it is reimbursed by the federal government for free meals. Currently, Addison explained, the district's reimbursement rate is considerably higher than what it pays for a full-price meal, and changes to the USDA policy could have a substantial impact to the district's food and nutrition budget.
Monday was the board's final scheduled budget meeting until April, when Sanderson will present his preliminary budget. After he presents that budget, the district is required by law to have at least two public forums for community input.
Board member David Morgan was not at Monday night's meeting and Bartlett said she did not know prior to the meeting he would not be in attendance.