School Board in Limbo for Qualfying
Pre-clearance on the county's new maps may not be completed by next week's qualifying.
Some members of the Cherokee County Board of Education are still in limbo as to which district map they’ll be qualifying under next week. And, there’s a chance they still may not know when qualifying begins on Wednesday.
House Bill 978, which changes the way school board members are elected and draws two members out of their districts, was sent to the Department of Justice for pre-clearance on April 5. The process typically takes 60 days, though school board attorney Tom Roach said he requested an expedited review, which is expected to be completed by June 5.
“It’s the worst situation to be in,” Roach said.
Should the new district maps not be approved by the end of business next Tuesday, Roach said the county’s election superintendent would be responsible to decide the next step. That could include requalifying once the new maps are approved, having a judge rule should a lawsuit be filed or allowing the board members to maintain their current posts until the next election.
“What happens after that is anybody’s guess,” Roach said.
Roach said the Department of Justice has around 2,700 new maps to approve and that some legislative delegations came up with backup plans should their new maps not be approved by the time qualifying begins.
“I wonder if there was some kind of expectation that it would be pre-cleared in time,” Roach said.
Before Thursday night’s regular meeting, Superintendent Frank Petruzielo met with board members to discuss preparations for the 2012-2013 budget. Petruzielo said that even with maintaining all of this year’s major cuts and increasing furlough days to eight, the school system will still have to dip into its fund balance, dropping its reserves from $32 million to $27 million. And, the school system would fall short of new guidelines requiring school systems to keep 12-15 percent of its budget in its reserves. To hit the 12 percent mark, the school system would need an additional $10 million in its fund balance.
“I think the plan has been we were going to try to put $1 million a year in there,” Petruzielo said. “We’re going to try to do the best we can.”
Factors negatively impacting the proposed budget include the discontinuation of $21 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds and $7.4 million in job stimulus money, which funded 132 positions this year. And, the school system’s portion of funding for state health insurance is increasing. Over the last five years, the school system has seen its portion increase by $10.3 million even though it’s operating with 522 fewer employees.
The local tax digest also is continuing to “hemorrhage”, Petruzielo said. In the last five years, it’s dropped from $7.8 million to a projected $5.8 million for the 2012-2013 school year, which is the same level it was in 2004.
In addition, because of the creation of opportunity zones and other economic development stimulators, the school system now won’t receive the $3 million it was project to get from a new outlet mall slated for Woodstock.
“For years, heard from Chamber how important it would be to get more commercial property on tax rolls,” Petruzielo said. “This is the opposite of that. This is taking commercial property off the tax rolls.”
Petruzielo said that he’s not sure what will happen for the 2013-2014 school year but that he doesn’t anticipate any significant funding at the local level.
“I think it is very unlikely that we are going to get any help at the federal level,” the superintendent said. “The only light at the end of the tunnel for this school system based on the fiscal challenges that we face lie with the governor and the state legislature. If they believe that public education should survive, then their policies will reflect that. If they don’t, 2012-2013 will be a warm up for what happens in 2013-2014.”