By all indications, state school funding will take more hits, but Gov. Sonny Perdue is pushing for two policies that might help education leaders brace for impact.
The governor notified school systems last Thursday that he’ll ask for legislation to allow local boards of education greater control of some state funds during these cut backs. He’ll also see that more class size waivers are granted to ease that financial burden, too.
“It’s tough economic times … We understand that,” Madison County Schools superintendent Mitch McGhee said. “We know that we’ve got to do our part. So within that scheme, we do appreciate the fact that they’re going to let us do the job we’ve been trained for and spend that money where it’s needed.”
Right now, approximately 70 to 71 percent of Madison County’s school budget is funded through state money, though the local board of education has little control over how that money is used.
“Almost all of that 71 percent we’re told how to spend,” McGhee said. “Just about every dollar, we don’t have any freedom.”
Under the governor’s plan, local boards would enjoy temporary waivers of the expenditure controls placed on such things like site-based direct instruction, media center and staff development controls until June 30, 2010.
“It takes some of the sting away,” McGhee said. “It allows us to use our professional discretion and spend the money in areas we need most.”
That, or Madison County would find itself having to make some tough decisions.
“You’re just really limited,” McGhee said. “You really have to maybe look at cutting programs or personnel. Now, we’ll spend it where it’s needed.”
McGhee is also looking forward to the classroom size waivers. The way the law is currently written, one child could move into the system and push a classroom over the mandated size limit. That forces a system to find the funds to hire another teacher.
“That kills you,” McGhee said. “Now, within a reasonable amount, if you are just one or two kids over, we won’t have to go out and hire a new teacher. We can save that money.”
McGhee said the latest news from the governor is good news considering the situation.
McGhee noted that he and fellow school leaders in the area got together and pushed for this flexibility as a response to the impending cuts.
“We know we’re going to get cut,” he said. “With that in mind, how can we make these cuts hurt least?” he said. “So, we came up with several things, like relaxing some of the class size criteria and allowing flexibility in spending.”