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February 26, 2004

AIDB facing higher costs, less funding

From: Daily Home Online, AL - Feb 26, 2004

By David Atchison

Helen Keller School teacher Lara Riley helps Paige Gamble and Janai Powell learn their numbers. Although AIDB could be facing shortfalls in state funding next year, direct student services and classes will remain intact. "Bob Crisp/The Daily Home TALLADEGA — The Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind needs at least $2.1 million more next year to keep the services it now provides, but could see a $1.6 million shortfall under the budget proposed by Gov. Bob Riley.

"I do believe we're doing everything possible we can to get funding," said Dr. Terry Graham, president of AIDB. "We have to hope by the end of the legislative session this $1.6 million problem will be solved."

Graham said under Riley's budget proposal, AIDB would receive about $254,000 more in state funding next year, but the institute will see mandatory increases in employee insurance, salaries and retirement benefits which alone would cost the institute an additional $2.1 million.

AIDB requested a $4.2 million increase which would bring its budget to $40.3 million.

The institute justified the $4.2 million increase for next fiscal year because of the $2.1 million mandatory cost increases, along with $819,203 to recover 60 positions lost within the past several years.

The institute also requested an additional $1.3 million in next year's budget for facility repairs and maintenance, replacement of buses and automobiles, classroom operating needs for technology and classroom support, projected increases in utility costs and to make up for losses in federal and state contract funds for its early intervention program.

Although AIDB will not get its $4.2 million request approved, officials hope to get at least the minimum amount of funding to continue offering services it now provides.

David Akins, AIDB's new chief financial officer, said a $1.6 million shortfall would mean a reduction of service at the institute.

"It would affect everybody to some degree," Akins said. "We're dealing with inflation too, that makes the pinch a little tighter."

Graham said if AIDB was forced to make cuts because of state funding shortfalls, there would have to be a reduction in services, but ...

"We want to protect direct student services and classes," he said. "AIDB has basically cut, cut, cut. We're at the point where there's not a lot to cut anymore."

Graham said the governor's staff and the local delegation know the situation at AIDB, and he's hoping funding will come through for AIDB by the end of the legislative session.

"I'm still trying to be optimistic," he said.

Lynn Hanner, AIDB's director of institutional advancement, said AIDB is in a unique situation when it comes to funding. Ninety percent of AIDB's funding is provided through an appropriation from the Alabama Legislature. In comparison, the Legislature funds only about 30 percent of operational budgets for colleges and universities and about 60 percent for most public schools, which also can tap into local tax funds.

Hanner said legislative funding cuts impact AIDB three times more severely than colleges and universities, and one and a half times more severely than public schools.

"AIDB has no resources to recover lost funds through increased tuition or local taxes," Hanner said.

Graham said once the health insurance question about who will pay for increases in health insurance, the employee or employer, is settled by legislators, AIDB's problem could be solved.

Whatever is decided, Graham said, AIDB will do what it has to do to live within its means.

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