The DeKalb County Board of Education has cut $113,000 from its proposed budget but still anticipates having to use up to $1.4 million in reserves to balance by the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year next June.
The board held a budget workshop followed by a special meeting Thursday night to revise the proposed spending plan which will be sent back to the county commission's budget committee for approval.
Earlier this month, the school board voted to ask the county to appropriate another $350,000 from the special school sinking or local option sales tax fund for school operation next school year. The county budget committee rejected the request fearing the risk of depleting the sinking fund over time. The county already appropriates from the sinking fund $1,540,000 annually for schools along with $605,620 this year to meet certain school debt service obligations.
The school board Thursday night voted to remove the request for an additional $350,000 from the sinking fund and to cut proposed expenditures in various line items by a total of $113,000. No current positions or programs would be cut.
Board Chairman Johnny Lattimore asked Teresa Miller, Central Office Payroll/Bookkeeper, to outline the proposed cuts made in the budget. "Revenues have been reduced by the $350,000 that we had asked additional dollars from the sinking fund. That is the only revenue adjustment. Regular Instruction Programs has been reduced by $54,260. Special Education Program has been reduced by $3,200. Vocational Education Program has been reduced by $4,000. Attendance Category has been reduced by $13,195. Other Student Support has been reduced by $2,000. Regular Instructional Staff has been reduced by $8,500. Board of Education has been increased by $29,288. That's due to increases in insurance premiums (liability insurance and workers compensation). Office of the Principal has been reduced by $17,000. Fiscal Services has been reduced by $1,400. Operation of Plant has been reduced by $19,000. We reduced Maintenance of Plant by $9,700. Transportation was reduced by $11,000. That brings our anticipated expenditures to $20,626,800. Our revenues are at $19,182,340, which would leave $1,444,460 to be balanced with reserves or fund balance," said Miller.
Director of Schools Mark Willoughby said the proposed budget could not stand anymore cuts without affecting personnel and programs. "I think we've done a good job going through and cutting some things that we could. It gets down to operating a barebones budget again like we have done year after year and we're fortunate we've been able to offer the services that we have and to cut a lot more, I'm afraid we would not be able to offer the services our children need," said Willoughby.
"Will the passage of this budget affect children directly?" asked Board member Charles Robinson.
"If we cut much more then we're cutting human capital," replied Director Willoughby. " We're afraid that we would be cutting personnel. We don't want to cut personnel because that we think we have in there what our students need. I really wouldn't feel comfortable cutting any more," he said.
Willoughby added that the school system could do much more for children, if it did not have to be concerned with budget constraints. "There are several things that would improve the education of our children that some school systems already have. We would like to have had math coaches, language art coaches, graduation coaches, and more guidance counselors. These are things that some systems already have. We would like to have audio enhancements in all of our rooms. These are things that are research based that have been proven to help children achieve more. We know as children achieve more, the opportunities for children increase tremendously. Yes, there are other things, if we had the money we would have in this budget," said Director Willoughby.
All seven board members voted for the revised proposed budget including fifth district member W.J. (Dub) Evins, III who seemed frustrated that the school system could not do more. "I would like to make it clear to everyone that this budget once again requires no tax increase request as far as property taxes are concerned. It's unfortunate we have to balance this budget with our reserve. I still disagree with the fact that we can't take $350,000 to $400,000 out of the sales tax (sinking fund). The implication of cutting personnel, that's an insult to the integrity of the people who are responsible for taking care of 3,000 students. We don't have anyone to my knowledge sitting around with nothing to do. We could use more people. We're sitting on a budget once again that's just something we're getting by with. It's nothing fancy, no frills and no enhancements that other schools have. We're still falling behind other schools in the district and we will continue to until we make some changes. Any substantial cuts are not there to be made (in this proposed budget). It's unfortunate we have to balance the budget with the reserve. I do disagree with the funding mechanism but if that's what it takes, that's what it takes. But again, there's no property tax increase request. I don't know how the system has run as efficiently as it does. We haven't had a property tax increase in quite a while and the cost of living goes up every year. Health care costs go up every year and we're still sitting on the same budget. I understand that the budget committee turned our budget down. I would hope that the full commission would look at this budget and consider all the circumstances and the discussion we've had. Once again, we're sending a budget over there with no tax increase and we're not here to cut personnel and I don't intend to. I would hope the full commission and our county mayor would look at this long and hard because we're not asking them for one dime. We're asking them for their consideration for this budget to be passed so we can move forward," said Evins.
In order to meet requirements of the federal Affordable Health Care Act, the budget includes funds to offer single coverage health insurance to all full time classified employees (support staff) who want it, beginning January 1, 2014. Employees who take the school system up on its offer will have to pay ninety dollars per month. The school system will cover the rest. No additional insurance benefit will be offered to certified personnel.
"If our guidelines change of course we would have to come back and change this, " said Director of Schools Mark Willoughby in a previous meeting. "We still do not know what the Affordable Health Care Act is going to entail. We'll be learning more about that as the months go on. I don't think there is anyone in Tennessee that really knows how this is going to affect them," he said.
The revised budget calls for certified employees to receive a one time bonus instead of a 1.5% pay raise. Director Willoughby said in a previous meeting that approximately $40,000 in state funds will pay for the bonuses which comes to about $160 per employee. "What I am recommending at this time is the 1.5% pay raise for certified employees to be as a bonus and to take that $40,000 that we receive from the state and split that among all certified employees. That is nothing from local money. If it comes in $41,000 then we'll split $41,000 but it's all straight flow through money from the state," said Director Willoughby.
The budget includes funding for two new teacher positions at DeKalb Middle School: $90,000 total
One new P.E. teacher at Northside Elementary School: $45,000
One new extra teacher position (instead of two) which may or may not be needed depending upon enrollment at the elementary school level: $45,000 (position not to be filled if not needed)
Two federal teacher positions moving to general purpose schools (local budget): $90,000 total
Under the Gifted Education Program: One new gifted position: $45,000
Under Special Education Program: A half time psychologist: $27,000
Other new positions included in the budget:
Assistant band director (working primarily at DeKalb West School), $5,000.
Two new Middle School Soccer Coaches: $2,785 each
One baseball coach at DeKalb West School: $2,785
Two new assistant soccer coaches at DCHS: $2,785 each
One new Cross Country Running coach: $2,785
The budget also includes a $4,150 pay raise for the Transportation Supervisor.
Although it was not specifically addressed in the budget, Director Willoughby said in a previous meeting that the school system might be able to come up with funds for one school resource officer, if the county could fund three new positions. That would put an SRO at each school in the county. Willoughby said $15,000 could be available through a Safe Schools grant to help fund an SRO. The school system, he said, could probably come up with another $15,000. The cost to fund an SRO for the first year would be around $30,000.