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Cutbacks loom for city school system

By Staff
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
Baseline drug testing and funding for extra curricular activities are among the items on the chopping block for Hartselle City schools, as officials brace for some $620,000 less in state funds this year.
Superintendent Dr. Lee Hartsell said State Department of Education officials have warned the system its state appropriation could be cut as much as 5 percent for the coming school year. The system received $12.4 million from the state in 2003. That appropriation could be cut 5 percent, or $621,284.
Hartsell said there would be cutbacks, but that state officials were stopping short of labeling the funding crisis as proration, something that would actually help the situation.
"Once you declare proration, you can transfer money from other line items," he said. "You can't do that if you just have cutbacks."
Alabama law doesn't allow line item transfers for school systems not under proration, which means state money sent to the system for certain projects can't be used to cover any the shortfalls.
"The state mandates our spending in over 80 percent of what it gives us," Hartsell said. "Most states don't do that."
The cuts are leaving the system scrambling to figure out how to make cuts that will cause the least harm to classroom instruction.
"What's going to happen (in Montgomery)? I don't think anybody knows," Hartsell said. "We've just got to look at ways to make cuts that won't hurt our programs."
Among the items the board is eyeing to cut is baseline drug testing for all students, a move that would save $15,000 per year. Currently, all students participating in junior high and high school extra curricular activities are tested for drugs at the beginning of the season, as well as randomly during the years. The funding cutbacks could force elimination of the baseline testing, but board officials said they were committed to continuing at least the random tests.
The board is also looking at a 20 percent reduction in funding for extra curricular activities, including sports and band. Those cutbacks could save the system some $31,700.
"If they need more money they will just have to do more fundraisers," Hartsell said.
The cutbacks could include limiting the number of trips athletic teams are allowed to take.
"There is nothing off limits," Hartsell said. "There might not be any trips at all."
Hartsell said decisions on cutting personnel will be made in the coming months, but he felt most of the cuts would be made by attrition and retirements. Four positions at the Central Office, including the central office nurse, a part-time administrative position, a full-time secretary position and a full-time maintenance position may be eliminated. Those cutbacks would save $102,037.
Hartsell has also asked principals at each school to look for ways to save money. Elementary school principals are being asked to cut $100,000 and the principal at the junior high and high school are asked to cut $150,000.
Hartsell said that information is being compiled and will be presented at up-coming board meetings.

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