published Saturday, March 5th, 2011

Dalton schools facing big cuts

DALTON, Ga.—Lower state and local revenues will require Dalton City Schools to cut its budget by $4 million to $5 million in the upcoming fiscal year, system Superintendent Jim Hawkins told school board members Friday.

That would mean total cuts of almost $15 million over three years, Hawkins said.

During a daylong meeting at Dalton State College, school board members said they did not want to raise millage rates to meet the budget shortfall unless it was a last resort to provide a good education to students.

Board members also discussed the possibility of building a new middle school, but they decided to look at rezoning and reconfiguring other schools to take students out of the overcrowded Dalton Middle School.

Friday’s meeting focused primarily on budget numbers, as the school system prepares to put together a budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30.

Hawkins said it is difficult to estimate local revenue, but based on “lots and lots and lots of estimates” the local property tax money going to the school system is expected to decrease about 10 percent, or $2.6 million.

“Some people believe 10 percent is a conservative number,” he said.

State revenues would provide about $29 million, leaving the school system with about $53 million for the upcoming year, Hawkins said.

Teams are working to target spending reductions, but Hawkins said he did not want to prematurely say what those likely would be. Last year, the school cut 57 positions, shortened the school year and reduced salaries.

Hawkins plans to present specific recommendations for cuts in March, with an opportunity for feedback from employees, parents and the community, he said. The board will vote on a first draft of the budget in May and vote on the final budget in June.

After discussing various options to relieve overcrowding at Dalton Middle, board members asked for information about reconfiguring grade levels at different schools and rezoning students. The middle school is operating at more than 100 percent capacity this year, with enrollment expected to increase.

Board of Education Chairman Steve Williams asked for information by June, so board members could make a decision on whether to ask voters to approve a 1 cent education special purpose local option sales tax in November.

The Whitfield County Board of Education has indicated it will ask for the tax after voting this week to move ahead with building Eastbook Middle School, a $24 million project. Both school systems must ask for the tax, since both share the revenue.

“We’re waiting for them [Whitfield County] to move forward, but we want to cooperate with the county board of education on whatever their plan might be,” Williams said at the meeting.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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