Proration in future?

Published 12:59 am Monday, January 21, 2008

By By Kerry Whipple Bean – publisher
With dire predictions for a decrease in state funding, city and county school officials will be watching the legislative budget talks carefully this year.
But both Brewton City and Escambia County schools have reserve funds that could help them through possible lean times, school officials said.
While budget talks are in the infant stages ahead of the legislative session that begins in February, Brewton City Schools Superintendent Lynn Smith said proration - budget cuts in education because of slowed growth in revenues - is a very real possibility.
Smith said state officials have estimated they could end the year down by about $450 million - about equal to the amount in a state proration prevention account.
And with health insurance and retirement costs going up, Smith said the state will have quite a shortfall, although where the cuts could come is still unknown.
Both school systems have reserve funds, even beyond the state requirement for one month of expenses.
But Brewton City Schools have seen declining student populations in recent years - meaning the school system has lost personnel through attrition.
So with the possibility of proration looming, Smith does not see Brewton schools having to tighten their belts so much that they will have to cut band or art or extracurricular activities - some of the programs that other school systems faced losing the last time Alabama went into proration.
The state has been in proration seven times since 1980, but the past two years of education budgets were marked by surpluses.
Double-digit growth in recent years was fueled by the state's economic uptick following hurricanes Ivan and Katrina, Smith said. With more people moving into the state and construction booming, the state's coffers overflowed. But that growth has slowed in the last two years and has not matched what state budgets predicted.
State Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, said he knows both the education and general fund budgets will fall short this year.
Some proposed programs - such as an expansion of pre-K classes across the state - would likely not see new state funding this year, Baker said.