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The Macon Newsroom

Bibb County school board mulls employee raises, potential school closures in budget meeting

Bibb County School District
Bibb County School District CFO Eric Bush presents preliminary budget information for fiscal year 2025 at the Board of Education’s first work session on March 11, 2024.

The Bibb County Board of Education faces the same challenges it’s grappled with for years as it plans its next budget: declining student enrollment and a teacher pay scale that lags behind other districts.

Increasing revenue and decreasing expenses are once again at the crux of financial decisions the board will need to make in the coming months as it works on a budget for fiscal year 2025.

“The concerns and considerations at this time echo the same that were there last year,” district CFO Eric Bush said during the first budget work session Monday. “Our district continues to fall farther behind in our certified and classified salary schedules … The possible solutions are to increase salaries and become competitive. That’s going to cost local dollars and the only way to really increase revenue is to consider millage rates or lower our expenditures.”

Bush presented two preliminary possibilities for the budget.

The first assumed minimal increases to revenue or expenditures and would require the district to spend $10 million from the fund balance yearly through 2028. That scenario would position the district to have a fund balance of 6.25%, or $16 million, by 2028.

The second budget projection included raises for staff without a millage rate increase. That scenario would require the district to spend $20 million from its fund balance yearly through 2028. Under that estimation, the district’s fund balance would drop from $38.9 million to $18.1 million in fiscal year 2026, bringing the district’s fund balance below the state’s recommended minimum of 8%. The district would have a negative fund balance in 2028.

Georgia funds public school districts based on the number of students enrolled. Projections for enrollment show 49 fewer students in elementary school and more than 270 additional students in middle and high schools. Even so, the total enrollment next year is projected at 20,250, a decrease of more than 1,000 students compared to October enrollment totals.

Consultants to explore possible school closures?

The district has too many schools and too few students by Georgia Department of Education standards.

Half of the Bibb County School District’s 22 elementary schools have too few students enrolled to be eligible for state funding for certain positions such as media specialists, according to Bush’s presentation. Two of six middle schools and four of six high schools also have enrollment below the state’s minimum. Local tax dollars fund pay raises for teachers and other positions not funded by the state.

Board member Myrtice Johnson wanted to know why it was important for the board to learn about the under-enrolled schools.

“I’m not suggesting this, but if we have less schools, we have less overhead and operational costs in each facility,” Bush said. “So, pointing that out shows that we may have more schools than are possibly needed for our community.”

Sims added that the lion’s share of savings from school closings would come from eliminated operational expenses, which the district last year estimated could total $1.5 to $2 million per school.

Toward the end of the meeting, board member Daryl Morton asked Sims about a request for proposals he noticed the district published Friday seeking consultants to help it navigate the looming potential of school closures.

“I know we’d been talking about the potential for school consolidation at the last budget cycle. I guess the question I have is why now, and not a year ago, issue (a request for proposal) for someone to take a look at this for us?” Morton asked.

Sims said the district began looking for internal cost-saving opportunities first following the board’s decision last year to roll back the millage rate and he “didn’t feel like we were in a space or place” to request proposals at the time.

“We wanted to give ourselves sufficient time,” Sims said. “If we were to have started last year, it probably would not have started until around October, and in my professional opinion that would not have given us a sufficient enough runway both for the board and also for the community to be involved and engaged in whatever findings or recommendations.”

Two years ago, when former Superintendent Curtis Jones was working out his final months before retirement, Jones urged the school board at a budget work session for fiscal year 2023 to start considering school closures because, as he said then, “I don’t see a way around it.”

The board has taken few if any measures to start exploring that process. Even so, the budget it passed last year all but guarantees the closures of at least two schools by 2028.

The next budget work session is set for April 8 at 5 p.m. in the professional learning center building at 2007 Riverside Drive. A third and final budget work session is set for May 7 at 5 p.m. in the board room at district offices on Mulberry Street.

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email [email protected].

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