OUR OPINION: Thankful for the reserve fund
Superintendent Dr. Brian Shumate, CFO Scott Burckbuchler and others involved in creating the Troup County School Board budget probably feel like they’ve spent a year trying to figure out how the numbers were going to work out.
It’s actually only been a few months, but we’re sure it feels like it’s taken much longer.
Budget season is always a grueling task, and that goes for anyone trying to make dollars and cents work in any profession. But when you throw in the curveball of COVID-19, plus many question marks on funding sources, we’re sure the entire process resulted in a gigantic headache for a school system that employs around 1,800 people and oversees around 12,000 students.
TCSS started the process with a planned $1.8 million structural deficit. That was back in March, when our world was still relatively normal, and most people had probably never worn a facial mask. Then, the news got worse, as TCSS braced for major cuts from the state.
Thankfully, those cuts apparently won’t be as much as expected. Shumate said last week that he doesn’t believe furloughs will be needed since the state isn’t cutting as much funding as TCSS estimated originally. Instead of projecting a 14 percent cut to state funding, TCSS is essentially expecting an 11 percent cut from a large portion of its state funding. There was a lot of talk about TCSS’ reserve fund during election season, and a lot of that discussion continues now via social media. School systems in Georgia are asked to keep their reserve funds at no more than 15 percent of the system’s total budget for the year.
The point in that law is to ensure taxpayer money doesn’t just sit in a fund, unused for years and years. TCSS has been above that 15 percent number — but not excessively — and it’s fair to say now that all of the money saved over recent years has paid off. That’s technically the whole point in a reserve fund — to ensure there’s money in case of an emergency, and COVID-19 is definitely an emergency.
The school system will use $3.38 million from its reserve fund to handle the deficit this year. Obviously, that’s not something TCSS can afford to do year after year, especially when you add in that voters will decide on a property tax exemption in November that would further decrease available funding in future years. Plus, eSPLOST dollars are down the last two months due to the pandemic, and there’s no indication they are going to jump back to expected totals anytime soon. And, on top of all of that, there’s no guarantee what the world is going to look like next year at this time. In the words of Shumate, TCSS has to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. By having a healthy reserve fund, TCSS did just that.
To be clear, we aren’t saying that TCSS should continue allowing its reserve fund continue to grow, but after COVID-19, it’s clear that’s likely not to be a concern any time soon.
We’re thankful the school system had money in reserve. We’re sure employees probably feel the same.