In order to meet a state deadline for getting a budget in the hands of the county commission by May 15th, the DeKalb County Board of Education spent close to two hours Tuesday night before adopting a proposed tentative spending plan for the 2013-14 school year.
The plan includes spending to fund a few new positions, but it does not include a proposal suggested by Director of Schools Mark Willoughby that would have provided single health insurance coverage for all full time eligible employees, certified and support staff. Under the federal affordable health care act, employers must offer an affordable plan to eligible employees or pay a penalty.
The board also cut from the proposed budget $50,000 in new money to fund a full time athletic director and $90,000 for two extra positions which might be needed during the school year.
Even without the costly extra insurance benefit and other cuts, the school system looks to dig deep into its piggy bank by possibly up to $1.7 million to balance the new budget without a tax increase, unless the county commission meets the school board's request to appropriate more money from the replenishing local option sales tax or sinking fund for school operation. Had they asked for it, the school board may have needed as much as a sixty cent property tax hike to support this proposed budget.
The vote was 4 to 1 to adopt the tentative budget with the cuts. Board members John David Foutch, Kenny Rhody, W.J. (Dub) Evins, III, and Billy Miller voted for it. Chairman Johnny Lattimore voted against it. Board member Doug Stephens was absent and Board member Charles Robinson who was present for most of the meeting, apparently had to leave before the budget issue was decided.
The school system currently pays a portion of employee's health insurance coverage under plans made available through the state. Total costs comes to $1.5 million each year. Certified employees who have either a single or a family plan pay 36% and the school system picks up 64%. Support staff pay 49% of their coverage and the school system pays a 51% matching portion. While the school system apparently meets the affordable health care requirements for certified personnel, it would be subject to penalties unless it does more for support staff. Under the new federal law, "if an employer does offer health coverage but it is not affordable or it is not minimum value and a low income full time employee enrolls in health coverage on the exchange and obtains premium credit, the employer must pay an annual penalty of $3,000 for each full time employee except for the first thirty employees," said Director Willoughby. "To this day, we don't know all the guidelines. I don't know how the affordable health care act is going to work out. It may be October before we know. It may be later than that. I do think it is a good opportunity to offer our employees insurance (single coverage paid at 100%). I'd much rather pay our employees' insurance as to pay the penalty back to the government," said Willoughby.
Had the school board kept in the budget full single health insurance coverage for all eligible employees, the cost to the system would have increased by about a million dollars to $2.5 million a year.
Board members seemed uncomfortable with the spending plan. Chairman Lattimore said he could not support it, even with the proposed cuts. Lattimore said the budget still has too much fat. "I believe with all my heart that there is fat in this budget," said Lattimore. "There are things in here that we don't have to have to survive next year. We send a budget across the street (to county commission) that we know we don't have to have and we're asking the county commission to do our job. When we have sent budgets across the street in the past and we have felt like they have tried to line item things out of our budget, it has infuriated this board. And now we're asking them to do the exact thing that has infuriated us before. It's our job to trim out the fat in this budget," said Chairman Lattimore.
"As a school board member, we're in a very particular situation. We've got to do what's in the best interest of the children above everything and we've got to do what's in the best interest of the employees of the school system but we've also got to do what's in the best interest of the taxpayers of DeKalb County. When you send a budget across the street (to the county commission) and you are asking for a fifty or fifty four cent tax increase, you're asking the little old lady that's on her social security check that's having to pay her property taxes on payments because she can't afford to pay it all at one time, you're asking her to pay more. For the people with the million dollar lake homes, they won't have a problem paying that. They think we have the lowest property tax rate they ever saw in their life. But the little old lady who is just barely making it, how is she going to pay an extra fifty four cent tax increase when she can barely make it now? What medicine does she quit taking next year to pay this?," asked Lattimore.
The proposed budget does include the following new positions:
One full time assistant band director: $45,000
Two new teacher positions at DeKalb Middle School: $90,000
One new P.E. teacher at Northside Elementary School: $45,000
One federal teacher position moving to general purpose schools (local budget): $45,000
One new Middle School Soccer Coach: $2,785
One new baseball coach: $2,785
One new assistant soccer coach at DCHS: $2,785
Stipend for teachers attending inservice: $35,000
Under the Gifted Education Program:
One new gifted position: $45,000
One federal teacher moving to general purpose schools (local budget): $45,000
Under Special Education Program:
A half time psychological personnel: $27,000
A part time clerical employee working hours if needed for scanning records: $5,000
The Transportation Supervisor's salary would increase by $12,440
The purchase of two new school buses is also included in the proposed budget along with a state approved 1.5% pay raise in the state funded portion of the salary of certified personnel.
The proposed budget now goes to County Mayor Mike Foster and the county commission's budget committee. If it does not meet with their approval, the proposed budget will come back to the school board for further revisions. All county budgets must be approved and sent to the state by August 15.