A $179 million bookkeeping error could lessen the blow for Georgia's schools and taxpayers.
Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue's staff made a $179 million bookkeeping error in his budget proposals, failing to include most of the money from a new nursing home fee in his mid-year 2004 and fiscal year 2005 spending plans.
This discovery of additional funds announced last Friday could help soften the impact of the governor's proposed spending cuts. For McDuffie County Schools, it could mean as much as $706,000, according to Bill Tomlinson, assistant director of the Legislative Budget Office.
"The money's there, there's no doubt about it," Mr. Tomlinson said. "The bottom line will come down to how badly they want to do something for education."
Cuts to McDuffie County Schools for FY 05 have been estimated at $730,767. The additional money, if all of it is earmarked for schools, would reduce the cuts here to less than $25,000.
Loretta Lepore, Gov. Purdue's press secretary, said the governor is waiting for the legislature to submit its budget.
"Obviously the governor believes this is good news that we found additional moneys that can be given back to the citizens of Georgia. But as to how that money will be spent, it's just too early to say," she said.
Under the governor's spending plan for FY 05, which begins July 1, schools would lose a net $255 million in funding next year. In the past two years, McDuffie County has lost almost $2 million due to austerity reductions in state funding.
"Anything is a tremendous help right now with the county cuts they've hit us with," said McDuffie County Board Chairman Tommy Phelps. "Basically it could translate into possibly fewer positions having to be cut."
The board has already begun looking at next year's budget, and Tom Smalley, comptroller for McDuffie County Schools said the school system has taken a "wait and see" approach to the money from the state.
"We got our hopes up a lot when we found out about it," Mr. Smalley said. "And then the more we read about all these projects that these legislators want to use some of that money for, we really are skeptical until we hear about a final bottom line figure."
Already several steps have been taken to alleviate the cuts this year. McDuffie County raised its millage rage .8 mills for the 2003 tax bills while approximately 14 teaching positions could be eliminated next year.
Last year, the board had to dip into reserves to pay for the deficit caused by the state funding cuts.