Schools look to make cuts in second year of proration

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - As the first day of Fiscal Year 2010 rolled around, school systems across the state where faced with having to cut more from budgets that for many, have already been stretched thin.  That's because Governor Bob Riley has announced a seven and a half percent proration for this year's education budget.  That means schools will see about 400-million fewer dollars than they were expecting. "We're postponing maintenance.  We're postponing purchases and we're looking at ways to reduce utilities," said Randy Fuller, superintendent for Shelby County Schools.   He says the proration means his system must cut 9.6 million from their current budget.   That's tough considering 735 new students have enrolled in Shelby County this year, but the funding they'll receive is based on the lower numbers from last year.

"It becomes difficult.  Our class sizes are a little bit larger this year because we did have proration last year."

Jefferson County superintendent Phil Hammonds says this year's cuts weren't unexpected, and so his system has been conservative in spending over the last several years in preparation.  "We've built up a good reserve and we've had to tap into that significantly," Hammonds says.   He adds that departmental budgets have been cut by 30-perent, transportation has been chopped by 25-percent.  The system has also closely monitored utility and travel costs.

Administrators in the Birmingham school system declined to comment at this time saying they are still in the process of deciding exactly where and how they will make cuts.  And officials with the Hoover school system say they too will they will continue to examine all areas of expense control as they head into this fiscal year.

Governor Bob Riley says there are several reasons for the cuts.  One of the biggest:  the growing costs of healthcare.  Teachers who are under the public education employees health insurance plan, pay two bucks a month for single coverage and for families pay 134 dollars.  The state picks up the rest of the tab.  And with more than 100-thousand enrolled the tab is growing.  "We've gone from about 600 million dollars we were paying for insurance to about one-point-one billion," says Riley.  "When you double the amount you're paying for medical insurance just for state employees and teachers, you understand that begins to drive decisions we make on just about everything else in state government."   There's been talking of raising coverage for those employees.  So instead of paying 2-dollars, single coverage could possibly jump to 25-dollars.   But Vi Parramore with the Jefferson County branch of the American Federation of Teachers disagree with that proposal.  She says because salaries are so low for teachers in Alabama, low healthcare costs are a must.  "The health insurance is the one thing that has attracted people to education so we could keep people in the classrooms," Parramore said.