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Not much cheer in school budget

School administrators have described another bleak year financially, saying that programs lost more than a year ago won't return and other educational projects won't be started.

During the School Board's first look at the proposed 1993-94 school spending plan Tuesday, finance officials presented an general fund _ operating _ budget of $59.6-million, $2.38-million more this year's. The general fund had no money to reinstate administrative, teaching or special program positions lost in previous budget cuts.

The budget also has money for only 10 new teachers and little or no money for many of the school improvement needs cited by schools in recent months.

The capital fund budget presented Tuesday totaled $23.9-million, which is $2-million more than last year. This is primarily for construction and equipment.

The capital budget will be financed through a tax of 2 mills, the maximum amount allowable and the same amount levied in the past few years. A tax of 2 mills amounts to $2 in tax for every $1,000 in taxable property value.

No tax rate has been proposed yet to finance the remainder of the budget because final numbers from Tallahassee on the required local millage rate have not yet been decided, finance director Nancy Rivers said after Tuesday's session.

The total budget will be detailed at a July 8 board workshop. Public hearings will be held July 27 and Sept. 14.

School Board members got a fuller look at the budget process Tuesday than in past years. A half dozen school administrators described how the budget is developed, where money comes from, where it's spent and other details.

Administrators described a process in which cuts had to be taken and transfers and adjustments of funds made several times to ensure that the document _ described as a "maintenance budget" _ would balance.

"We wanted to maintain our goal of students as first priority," Rivers told the board. She noted that there were several increases in the budget figured in including an increased cost for utilities and step pay increases which school district employees receive for earning an additional year of service.

Superintendent Carl Austin noted that the state's funding increase of 4.3 percent "will not heal the wounds of what has happened over the last 3{ years" of budget cuts.

"What we have done is exhaust our contingency fund. . . . It's almost frightening," he said.

Austin also noted that this is the first year that the district had to transfer so many dollars out of capital projects into the general fund for maintenance, equipment and other expenses.

"We just cannot continue to accept this from our Legislature," said board member June Black. "They have to treat us fairly. We're talking about children."

Austin said that the details presented to board members Tuesday should help them to understand the difficult decisions made and the questions raised when people ask why the system doesn't have an alternative school or the proposed DARE drug education program.

Much of Tuesday's budget discussion was a focus on what wasn't in the document rather than what was.

During the budget process, 67 new positions were requested from the schools and the district office, positions called for under the district's approved staffing plan.

Executive director of administrative services Neal Weiss explained that positions requested but not included in the budget included 12 classroom teachers, nine math and computer lab teachers, 10 special education teachers, three district-level administrators and several maintenance, custodial and teacher aide positions.

In addition to the positions not approved, executive director of educational services Bonnie Skrove pointed out that many worthwhile programs were not approved either, including field trip funding for elementary schools, three additional school resource officers and additional requested technology expenses.

Also not included was an alternative school _ which carried a price tag of $556,222, not counting the cost of land and a building.

An alternative school serves disruptive students and gives them special attention.

"It's not in the budget at this time and yet it is certainly something that has been strongly supported," Skrove said.

She also noted that many of the items that could not be afforded are the same things identified as needs by the individual schools as they developed their school improvement plans in recent months.

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