East Alabama schools dip into reserves to deal with proration

By Laurie Bernstein - bio | email

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -It's been two months since the governor of Alabama announced 9%proration cuts for all local school systems.

Now, its time for some tough decisions on where and how much to cut.

School systems around East Alabama have been cutting their budgets for this year where they can, but most of them are falling short of making those proration levels.

Now face with no other choice, they are dipping into the reserve funds used only in emergencies.

For Phenix City school superintendent Dr. Larry DiChiara, proration has been a balancing act.

He had to cut millions from his budget this year, but didn't want to sacrifice the programs that students and parents have come to expect.

"I can cut it out, but it's everything that made us special, those extra services we offer. Then, we won't even recognize ourselves because we've cut so much," said Dr. DiChiara.

With their strong financial position, Phenix City ultimately chose to delve into their reserve funds to deal with proration.

For other school systems that don't have a large reserve, though, the effects can be devestating.

"If you don't have that reserve, you end up borrowing money, and when you do that, you have to end up paying it back in the near future, and  you won't have the money to do it," said Dr. Stephen Nowlin, the superintendent for Lee County Schools.

Lee County is in a strong position, only having to dive into their reserve funds for $1 million.

Barbour County is just squeezing by without cutting into their one month operating budget.

They stress, though, they have only cut when it comes to supplies, not personnel.

"I want proration to be invisible to students in the classrooms and teachers here at school," said Dr. Gary Quick, superintendent for Barbour County Schools.

One thing these superintendents all agree on -- if these cuts keep coming, some Alabama school districts may not survive.

"When you get hit with proration, it's like taking a body shot. Some can take it and they might lose their breath, but they are okay. Some, though, when they take that body shot, they are on their knees and they can't get back up," said Dr. DiChiara.

There are two big pieces of news that all these districts are waiting on.

First, if Governor Bob Riley will empty the rest of the Rainy Day fund, cutting proration from 9% to 5.6%.

Then, the stimulus money comes into play.

These schools are hoping it will help them avoid layoffs before the next school year.