The DeKalb County Board of Education Thursday night adopted the tentative school budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year. The vote was 4 in favor, 2 opposed, and one passed.
The proposed $18 million budget will now be presented to the county's budget committee for it's approval and then it will go to the county commission for final approval later this summer.
The tentative budget includes pay raises for school personnel including a $400 increase per certified position and a 25 cent per hour increase for all support staff positions along with the step increases per salary scales and adjustments for degree advancement per salary scales.
Director of Schools Mark Willoughby says the budget is tight and he is hopeful the school system can make it through the year without having to ask for more from the county commission. "This budget is again a budget that is extremely close. I'm glad to see fuel prices are going down. We do have a $400 raise in there for our teachers and a 25 cent per hour raise for our support staff. Our teachers and support staff are very deserving of that (pay raise). Not only do they work hard, but they have been very productive and they have produced a lot of the results we were after. They accomplish a lot. This is a bare bones budget. It requests for us to use our BEP reserves. In the last several years we have used the BEP reserves to balance the budget but at the end of the year we have not had to actually use those reserves. We've been able to put those back and not use them. But I want to say for the record that this may be the year that we end up having to use the BEP reserves in order to pay our bills. We've had a lot of things go up, such as the amount that we're required to put into the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement Plan. I know the teacher's part (amount school system must contribute) is like $239,000. Support staff (amount school system must contribute) is less than $50,000. Should there be unforeseen things come up during the year, I just want to tell you that we may have to go back and ask for more money and definitely we may have to use our BEP reserves this year. We definitely don't want to go back and ask for more money, but I just want to let you know that there is a good possibility that this next school year may be the year that we use our BEP reserves."
Fifth district member W.J. (Dub) Evins, III voted against the budget, suggesting that the county is putting the board of education in a difficult position of having to balance the school budget on state BEP reserves, a position the school board may not have been in had the county commission not cut the school system's property tax rate a couple of years ago, after the sales tax referendum passed. "Mr. Willoughby, I don't have a problem with the expense structure in this budget. I think some things we can't avoid. I'm glad we're able to put something in for the teachers. However, I do have a problem with the funding mechanism. We can't continue to depend on sales tax revenues and our reserves, because reserves can't be replenished. When the general public was put to the test and there was a referendum to increase the (local option) sales tax, the approach at that time was that the sales tax was for the schools. As things progressed along, the understanding and agreement was that if you (public) vote the sales tax revenues, the sales tax increase, we (county mayor and commission) will take 19 ½ cents away from property taxes. As it turns out, we (schools) did get the sales tax revenue. We did get the referendum passed. And of that 19 ½ cents they (county commission) took 16 ½ cents of that from us (schools). I'm very concerned about that. We got money in the left hand (increase in sales revenue) and got it taken away from us in the right hand (decrease in property tax revenue). Fortunately, right now the sales tax revenues are okay but that's very volatile. It was not so many years ago that about 65 or 70% of the property taxes in this county went for schools. Now that's down in the 30 percentile. We're depending upon a very volatile income (sales tax revenue to fund schools) and I have some great concerns about that. I have no problem with the expenditures but I do have a problem with the funding mechanism."
Sixth district member Bruce Parsley also voted against the budget, saying after the meeting that he thought that the pay raise for personnel should be more. Parsley added that he also had concerns about using BEP reserves to balance the budget.
Second district member Charles Robinson, who is also chairman of the school board, passed during the roll call on the budget. The chairman is not required to cast a vote on any issue.
In addition to the pay raises, the proposed budget also includes one new special education resource teacher for DeKalb County High School to help meet the new diploma requirements. One of the current school nurse positions and two special education assistants, under this budget, would be funded from general purpose schools, rather than federal as they have been in the past. One part-time special education vision teacher position would become full time under this budget. And the transportation manager would become a full time position
Perhaps, the category making the single largest impact on the budget is in the state mandated increase in the school system's contribution to the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement, going from 6.42% to 9.05% for teachers and from 5.18% to 6.28% for support staff. That totals well over $239,000.
The bottom line on total school expenditures for next year comes to $18,029,136, exceeding total revenues by $770,476. In order to balance the budget, the school board is expected to propose appropriating $712,000 of the local school system's share of state Basic Education Program (BEP) reserves as one-time expenditures and $58,476 of Technology Reserves. The school board does not plan to seek an increase in the local property tax rate for schools, but is expected to ask the county for an increase in local revenue of $33,744 over last year's budget to round out this proposed spending plan.
In other business, the board adopted a new policy for DeKalb County High School that would change the academic standards in determining the top ranked students as well as the Valedictorian and Salutatorian of each graduating class, beginning with the Class of 2014.
Starting with incoming freshmen who will be graduating in 2014, students would have to complete the more challenging honors and advanced placement (AP) courses in order to be eligible for Valedictorian and Salutatorian and their ACT scores and attendance would also be factors.
A committee, made up of local educators, has been studying the issue and recommended this new policy to the board of education.
David Gash, assistant principal at DCHS and chairman of the committee, says one of the purposes of the proposed new policy is to increase enrollment in the honors and advanced placement courses. "Research has shown that students who are exposed to more rigorous course work in high school are better prepared for college. We feel that by raising the expectations for our students, we are better preparing them for the future."
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Third district member Kenny Rhody thanked DCHS student Meagan Sullivan for serving as the first student representative on the school board, a non voting position. He presented her a plaque on behalf of the board.