VALDOSTA -- Fiscal year 2004 revenues for the Lowndes County School System are projected to be about $4.3 million less than operating expenses, system officials announced.

This has led to the elimination of about 38 instructional positions, said Superintendent Steve Smith. The good news is these teaching positions were eliminated through attrition, he added.

Melanie James, assistant superintendent for finance, said system officials did not have to implement a reduction in force.

About 11 of those positions were at Lowndes High School, 10 were at Lowndes and Hahira middle schools, and the rest were scattered among the system's seven elementary schools, Smith said.

"This year, we had to look at cutting personnel," he explained. "We looked at those areas where we had an abundance of educators."

He said personnel accounts for 86 percent of the school system's budget. Smith said class sizes will increase slightly at each of the schools. However, he said, they will remain below the state mandated class size limitations, which vary for each grade level.

"We are still in the process of determining the full impact of the budget situation," Smith continued. "But we have cut all we can cut from personnel."

During fiscal year 2003, the Lowndes County School System found itself forced to dip into its fund equity to make up for some of the lost revenue, while also cutting operating, maintenance, transportation and other expenses.

"We can't do that anymore," Smith said.

Though he won't be sure of the system's exact financial situation until he receives an allotment sheet from the state, he already knows things are going to be worse for the coming fiscal year. Smith said the system might even be forced to consider raising the millage rate, a matter for the Lowndes County Board of Education.

"We haven't had a millage rate increase in about 10 years," James said.

In addition to the staff cuts, Smith said the electronics program at the high school was eliminated, a few other programs were cut back, and the work year of some system personnel was reduced.

"I don't think anyone escaped the cuts this year," Smith said.

He said the economy has the potential of getting better.

"I am an optimistic person," Smith said. "We are hoping for better times in the future."

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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