by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
At the June 22 special called meeting, the Franklin County School Board finalized the budget for the 2017–18 school year, requesting an $842,000 increase in property tax revenue compared to last year. The board also approved a two-year contract for newly appointed director of schools Stanley Bean, who will take office July 1, replacing Director Amie Lonas who recently resigned.
Lonas’ draft budget recommended requesting a $492,000 increase in property tax revenue, citing a 6.9 percent increase in medical insurance costs (total $405,000) and $562,000 decrease in Basic Education Program (BEP) funding from the state.
“The only place we can get the additional revenue needed is from property taxes,” Lonas said. Property values in the county have increased, she explained, but the state’s recommendation is to keep the amount collected at the same level by decreasing the value of the penny.
If the property tax rate remained the same, the county would collect $2 million more in property tax revenue, Lonas noted.
Lonas stressed that paying 90 percent of medical insurance was a crucial “recruiting incentive.”
Board member Gary Hanger agreed. “If we start making teachers pay more of the insurance, they’ll look to other systems for employment.”
Lonas’ draft budget also included a 2 percent salary increase for both certified and support employees. For the coming year, the state is requiring $487,000 of the BEP money go for raising teachers’ salaries, she said, and a 2 percent increase was needed to meet that goal.
Lonas expressed concern that the budget would require the school system to draw $2 million from the fund balance, leaving only $2.8 million in the fund balance at the end of the 2017–18 school year. “This is not sustainable,” Lonas insisted.
Sewanee school board representative Adam Tucker proposed the board request an additional $350,000 in property tax revenue, half of the amount necessary to implement the 2 percent salary increases for certified and support employees (total cost, $700,000).
The board incorporated Tucker’s suggestion and amended the budget, increasing the total property tax revenue request to $10.1 million. The board approved the budget unanimously.
Turning to the contract of newly appointed director of schools Stanley Bean, Board Chair Cleijo Walker said, “The salary amount must be above the highest paid salary we have, which is $98,500.”
The board unanimously approved board member Lance Williams’ recommendation they set Bean’s salary at $108,500, which is 10 percent above the current highest salary.
Leading up to the final vote on approval of the contract, Tucker announced, “I am voting ‘no,’ but it’s not due to lack of faith in Stanley Bean. You’ll have my full support,” Tucker said, turning to address Bean. “I can’t approve the contract because of the way we got here. I’d vote ‘yes,’ if we’d conducted a search.”
At the outset of the meeting, Franklin County Education Association (FCEA) President Anna Mullin addressed the board expressing concern about the manner in which Bean was appointed to the office of director of schools. “The decision that took place was not legal,” Mullin said, insisting she spoke as a parent and community member, not as an FCEA representative. “You didn’t follow your policy at all. I have no issue with Mr. Bean and hope his tenure is successful. I am not trying to change anything. But if you can disregard that policy, you can disregard others. I hope in the future, the board will carefully consider before taking any action that is contradictory to current policy.” Note: The policy identifies practices and procedures for conducting a search for and reviewing the credentials of qualified applicants. The board appointed Bean without conducting a candidate search or review.
Like Tucker, board member Sara Liechty said she was unable to vote in favor of the contract. “I tie my concerns to those of Miss Mullins. I’ll fully support Stanley Bean, and I recognize his strong support in the community, but policy was violated. I know Bean needs a contract, so I can’t vote against it, but nor I can’t vote it.”
In the roll call vote that followed, Tucker voted, “no,” and Liechty voted, “present,” with the other six board members voting for approval.
Defending her motion at the June 12 meeting to appoint Stanley Bean director of schools, board member Linda Jones said a number of constituents contacted her and advised, “‘Don’t do a search. Appoint Stanley Bean.’” Jones noted Bean was the runner up in the review process that resulted in Lonas’ selection. “I don’t apologize for making that motion,” Jones said. “When I arrived at the meeting on June 12, I saw school attorney Chuck Cagel’s proposal and timeline for conducting a search, and I thought, ‘Why in the world would we wait until September to select a director when we have someone who can do the job.’”
The board meets next on Monday, July 10.