The Baldwin County School System projects a 2016 budget $18 million less than the previous year’s, with cost reductions in administration and operations, reduced debt and a reallocation of expenses for instruction and construction. The threat of additional losses in revenue associated with the failed March referendum still looms, with the system projecting a potential $36 million deficit by 2019 if ad valorem levels are not renewed in the March 2016 primary and taxes are allowed to expire.
The new budget will be managed by one of three finalists for the system’s vacant superintendent position. The school board released the names of its top three candidates to replace former superintendent Robbie Owen on Monday. After five candidates interviewed in July, the board selected finalists Crisp Academy (Cordele, Georgia) Head of School Dr. James W. “Skip” Stevens, former superintendent of Jackson County (Georgia) Schools Dr. John Green and Eufaula City Schools Superintendent Carl E. Tyler.
The three finalists were among five candidates invited to public interviews in Loxley in July. The other candidates were Mobile County Public School System Assistant Superintendent Reginald Eggleston and Dr. Larry DiChiara.
The public will have the chance to meet the finalists during a meet-and-greet event Aug. 26 at the C.F. Taylor building in Robertsdale. According to the board’s online timeline for the search, after the meet-and-greet events, the board president and vice president will visit each candidate’s current school or job to interview their staffs and gather information from their communities. After that, the board will select a finalist and begin contract negotiations.
“I think we have three very good candidates and I personally am very excited about seeing them interact with the community next week,” Baldwin Board of Education District 5 representative Angie Swiger said. “Each of these men bring different sets of experiences to the table, including some that are important to me as a parent and to the board as a whole.”
Swiger said she is looking for a candidate who can support and advance the system’s advanced placement programs, technology initiatives and career academies.
One thing the new superintendent will face is a leaner budget than last year’s. The Baldwin County Schools budget is proposed to be $312 million in 2016, $18 million less than the 2015 budget of $330 million. The school board will hold a second budget hearing Sept. 2 at 5:30 p.m. in the Loxley Central Office, with a budget approval vote scheduled to immediately follow the hearing.
The budget includes $143 million in state revenues, $23 million in federal revenues and $143 million in local revenues. Local revenues will be funded heavily by a projected $47 million in ad valorem revenue. The system will contribute approximately $37 million to the state’s equity funding program. Over the next few years local revenue could fall dramatically, however, if the county’s ad valorem levels are not renewed next March.
According to a budget presentation from Chief Financial Officer John Wilson, without the renewals ad valorem rates would fall from 12 mills to 10 mills in 2017, resulting in an estimated $8.5 million in local revenue. The system could lose an additional $11 million in local revenue in 2018 with the expiration of a 1 percent sales tax. The school system’s projections are even more dire for 2019, with a potential $34 million loss and a $36 million deficit in the general fund.
Swiger said the school system had to take the potential revenue losses into account when budgeting for the coming fiscal year.
“The new superintendent will have to manage the growth in our system within the boundaries of the financial situation we face,” Swiger said, adding the new superintendent must help the school system reach out to the public about the need for ad valorem renewals. “We have to hope we can get the renewals back in March, and we need a superintendent who can connect with and build a relationship with the community in order to regain the trust we need.”
Debt reductions in the upcoming budget are mainly to due to high school and middle school technology lease payments being paid in full and large debt savings that resulted from refinancing. The system projects $19,734,832 in total principal and interest payments on debt service. The system has been able to reallocate and reduce administrative expenses that constitute a budget reduction of $2.2 million.
Baldwin County’s 45 schools are operated at approximately $5 million per week, or $20 million per month. Payroll for employees accounts for 70 percent of that amount. The system shows a projected enrollment of 31,194, with an additional 551 student increase from 2015, with just 3,646 employees — 533 fewer employees and 4,461 more students since 2008.
The state’s per pupil contribution is still $455 less than it provided in 2008. Also, state revenue to local school systems is a year behind, meaning although Baldwin’s enrollment will grow this year, the dollars to pay for additional teachers to serve those additional students won’t come for an entire year.
“With the growth we are facing and the potential losses we could see in the near future, we have to be very careful with how we spend the funds we do have,” Swiger said.
The budget includes $34 million in total expenses for special education, which has 559 employees and serves 4,058 special needs students county wide. The system also budgeted $17 million on the child nutrition program, which has 220 employees.
The system projects $7,630,000 in capital projects, the bulk of which are HVAC-related repairs and upgrades, in 2016.
The school system will have 22 elementary schools and three middle schools designated as Title 1 schools, meaning 40 percent of the student population qualifies for federally mandated free and reduced-cost lunch programs.