Although they'd held a meeting only 10 days before and came out optimistic with a prepared tentative budget, McDuffie County school officials' morale received a hard blow last week.
At the May regular meeting, School Superintendent Jim LeBrun said he did not have a tentative budget to recommend for the board's approval because he had just received final numbers from Atlanta on local school system allotments for Quality Basic Education.
McDuffie County will receive a 6.4 percent reduction in QBE funds next year, meaning school officials have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to cut more from budgets already stretched beyond the limit.
"This is not the type of news I wanted to share," LeBrun said. "What bothers me is, if we continue to get beat down from legislators, there's going to be a point of no return in the morale. We have to all continue to work on supporting our teachers and principals."
During a budget planning session the previous Thursday, LeBrun and Comptroller Tom Smalley had presented a tentative budget that included a 20 percent reduction in every department. That tentative budget was supposed to be approved at the May 12 regular meeting, when LeBrun made the announcement.
"All we've done to this point has put us in great position for today, but not enough for tomorrow," LeBrun said, adding that the system has $4 million in fund reserve, which will be cut significantly if administrators operate next year's budget under the current plan.
"The budget we're about to pass would end the year (2012) with $1.2 million, and we can't afford to continue to do that every year," he said. "The future is going to be brighter. But I don't know when the future is."
After receiving numbers from the state, LeBrun and Smalley went through the budget and found some textbook, technology and maintenance on facilities expenses that lawfully could be moved from General Fund to the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax fund, which relieved the budget another $100,000.
"This school system is dependent on that SPLOST passing in November," board member Bob Smith said. "If it doesn't, I don't want to use the 'tax' word, but that's where we'd have to go."
LeBrun reiterated that the local school district continues to operate "in the black," and will not need to lay off any employees. As of now, the continued goal is to not raise the millage.
The school board scheduled a called meeting on June 30 to approve the tentative budget.