Bus service for Dalton Public Schools students could be drastically cut this year in an effort to balance the budget without laying off any more teachers, officials said.
Superintendent Jim Hawkins told Board of Education members at their meeting on Monday that he believes the district can accommodate their request to avoid laying off teachers and other staff while still cutting $4 million to $5 million from a budget that is currently $56.7 million. Hawkins said the situation could change if the state Legislature delivers unexpected funding cuts or if other unknowns arise between now and June 14, when the budget is set to be adopted.
Hawkins said officials haven’t decided where and how much to cut bus service. There is no law that requires school systems to provide transportation for all students, though most Georgia school systems provide to all or at least most. Last year, Dalton saved $600,000 by cutting off service to students who live within one-half mile of their school.
The superinendent said there are scenarios for cutting out service completely, cutting it within one mile, cutting it within one-and-a-half miles, eliminating it at the high school only and several other options.
“We’re just studying (where to cut) now,” he said. “I think in April we’ll get all the detail out there.”
Board Chairman Steve Williams said that while he hates that cuts have to be made, it’s better to cut things than to lay off employees.
Hawkins said that if the scenario doesn’t change between now and budget approval time, he also doesn’t expect to cut employee salaries by more than 2 percent of what they make this year.
Last year, the district cut 52 positions. Since some of those were less than full time, 60 people were affected
“I think we’re going to avoid cutting jobs,” Williams said. “It looks to me that we will not have to go through a reduction-in-force again, which will make the staff a little more comfortable. So that’s good. If we can avoid laying people off by doing some other things, then I think that’s a positive.”
With board member Rick Fromm absent, the board approved a set of budget directives for Hawkins as school system leaders develop a list of cuts that will be unveiled in April. Included in the directives are plans to avoid increasing the property tax rate, keep class sizes relatively constant, look for ways to raise revenue, have school 175 days, and teachers paid for 180 rather than 190 days.
Expenses that could be cut are supplies, materials and “other non-personnel operating expenses” as well as transportation services. Barring any unexpected changes, Hawkins believes the cuts will come mainly from these areas.