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Additional cuts made in transportation will limit out of county field trips

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By The Staff

By JUDY UNDERWOOD

Morgan County News Editor

After months of deliberation and shuffling line items, the Morgan County Board of Education has adopted its 2008-09 budget.

The Board met in a special session last week to look for places to make adjustments after county commission removed $40,000 from its resources. Then the Board came back Monday night and approved the budget.

Following the meeting Board Chairman Terry Armes said he and other members of the Board are concerned they trimmed the budget too far and may face shortfalls in several line items as the year goes on.

Fuel, utilities and building maintenance are all areas that could come up short.

"We passed a balanced budget but we had to make a few cuts. Some of those cuts were in maintenance. Some were in transportation. But there were no services cut in this budget," Armes said.

Armes went on to say that there were no further cuts in personnel. The Board had cut two positions in the Central Office earlier saving almost $100,000 in the budget.

With the cost of fuel still an unknown, the Board has taken steps to help push its transportation budget as far as possible.

"One of the things we did tonight was cut the field trips back to one out of county trip per class."

It is estimated that some $30,000 can be saved by limiting the field trips. Plus the wear and tear on the buses will not be as great, according to information shared during recent board meetings.

Board member Jim Rivers is a proponent of finding alternative fuel sources to run the buses including natural gas and bio-diesel. He has also repeatedly asked school administrators to encourage energy conservation in the individual schools to reduce utility costs.

"We really need to be reducing our usage by at least ten percent," Rivers said.

Director of Schools Mike Davis said this budget cycle has been exhausting with about six months of work going into the process. And even though the budget has been adopted he believes there are going to be a lot of changes made as the year progresses.

Not only that but Davis anticipates that the next budget cycle for 2009-10 will be even more difficult as even further reductions from the State are expected.

One thing that both Davis and Armes pointed out is that although the Board has a huge amount of money to work with, there are limitations on what they can do with the money.

"We have to put our state and federal dollars where they tell us and most of our budget goes to pay for personnel," Armes explained.

Morgan County receives money from the State based on the number of students enrolled in the schools. Because of the four high schools and the requirement of highly qualified teachers, Morgan County has about 30 teachers employed over the number earned based on enrollment. Those positions are funded using money that could be used elsewhere in the budget.

But the Board has no choice but to fund the positions and offer the classes necessary to meet graduation requirements and mandates of the No Child Left Behind.

Davis did share good news with the Board during its meeting Thursday night.

"All of our schools have made AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) for the third year in a row," Davis said. "And we're all in good standing for the third year in a row. That's really wonderful and I'm really proud of that and our system and our students for the work they've done."

Davis said meeting AYP standards allows the local Board and school administrators to continue to make decisions while targeted schools often lose that ability.

"Three years in a row making AYP is an outstanding accomplishment for our school system."