August 30, 2014

Georgia Tweaks State Funding Formula to Prioritize Librarians

A newly revised formula for annual state grants administered by the Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS) will, in many cases, translate into less money for libraries as of July 2014, when the new fiscal year begins.

The overriding goal, GPLS officials told Library Journal, is to guarantee that more state money is spent on paid librarian positions. But the new formula—which factors in population and number of counties served to determine how much each library gets—leaves many scrambling to cover shortfalls in other areas.

Though the bulk of library funding in Georgia comes from the county level, the state’s 63 libraries mix state and local funds to create their annual budgets. Georgia’s Board of Regents uses the GPLS to allocate the state money, which totaled about $24.4 million for FY14 (the same amount is budgeted for FY15). Under the existing formula, state money was divided into three areas: paid librarian positions, materials grants, and system services grants.

As the revised formula takes effect, the bulk of state grants must be spent on librarians for FY15. So while cuts may be modest from library to library, every system will have less to spend on materials and other discretionary areas listed under “system services.”

Georgia State Librarian Dr. Lamar Veatch said the formula, which remained unchanged for a decade, was revised with the library community’s input and eventual approval. Seven public meetings were held around the state to field input. An advisory panel, the Regents Public Library Advisory Committee, voted 5-3 last September in favor of the current revision, which had been in the works for more than two years.

Why the change? Veatch said the old formula had become “twisted and skewed” over time and almost impossible to understand. A series of budget cuts at the state level since 2005 resulted in wider discretion in how individual libraries spent their grants; that flexibility has been largely done away with now.

Librarians respond

“We heard a lot. It’s a very vocal community,” Deputy State Librarian Julie Walker told LJ. “I would say it’s overall positive. With a couple of exceptions, most of them are supportive.”

Library Journal contacted a small sampling of library directors around Georgia seeking reaction to the revised state formula, and comments were generally positive, confirming Walker’s view. But of course, they weren’t pleased by any cuts they expected. All of them cited library materials as the most adversely affected budget item.

“I’m not happy losing funding,” said Carmen Sims, director of the Bartow County Library System, summarizing many of her colleagues’ attitudes. Sims oversees a single-county library network with three branches in northern Georgia that expects to receive about $60,000 less in state money for FY15.

Some of the library directors interviewed declined to reveal how much of a cut they were expecting.

“We are getting cut. I understand what has to be,” said Pauline Abidde, director of the Dougherty County Public Library, a single-county network with three branches headquarter in Albany, GA. “Most single-county libraries are facing a cut.”

Abidde said the total number of state-salaried positions in her district will drop from three to two for FY15. “I’m just hoping our county will fund our position,” said added. “We have a very supportive community.”

Thomas Jones, director of the Middle Georgia Regional Library, was another official reticent to discuss the state funding adjustment in detail. “I’m not happy,” said Jones, who oversees 14 branches spread through six counties. “We’re going to have a cut.” He said his district was expecting about $44,000 less in state grants for FY15, but declined any further comment on the matter.

Helen Poyer, director of the Cobb County Public Library System, said she’s budgeting for a 13 percent cut in her FY15 state grant. “The impact we’ll see is in our library materials,” she said, noting that all 10 of her 10 state-paid librarian positions will remain intact. The challenge, Poyer said, will be to “adjust local budgets to meet that deficit.”

As for the decision to revise the GPLS formula, Poyer said, “As a unit, we were opposed.”

“It’ll be a wash for us,” said Carrie C. Zieger, executive director of the Flint River Regional Library System, which serves six counties with eight branches in the north-central portion of Georgia. After receiving slightly more than $820,000 in state grants for FY14, Zeiger said her district is expecting about $16,000 less for the coming fiscal year. That’s sufficient, she said, to continue funding Flint River’s eight state-paid librarian positions.

“There was lots and lots of notice and an incredible amount of requested input,” Zeiger said of GPLS’ decision to tweak its formula. “I’m not distressed over this. I think it’s workable and doable.”

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