​Budget, Inadequate Policy Dilemmas Confront School Board

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
At the May 6 working session, the Franklin County School Board discussed concerns raised by the proposed 2019-20 budget. The board also took up a dilemma caused by students requesting to attend kindergarten at a school out of their zone and assessed possible liability issues resulting when parents drove students to school events. Neither of these circumstances is covered by school policy.
The budget includes no raises whatsoever, only degree advancement and step salary increases for certified employees based on years of service. At the end of the current school year, $4,622,506 will remain in the fund balance reserve, but under the proposed budget the fund balance will drop to $2,482,803 at the end of the 2019-20 school year.
“At the beginning of the year Governor Bill Lee promised a two and half percent increase in Basic Education Program (BEP) funding, but we haven’t heard anything else,” said Director of Schools Stanley Bean.
County Deputy Finance Director Cindy Latham said the schools wouldn’t receive any additional property tax revenue because the county hasn’t experienced any growth.
Complicating matters further, the school system is mandated by law under BEP requirements to devote $295,000 in “new money” for instructional salaries, according to Assistant Superintendent Linda Foster. The step increases approved by the board in February allocate $154,000 in new money for salary increases. The budget includes this amount. The budget does not include the remaining $140,000 necessary to meet the $295,000 target.
Foster proposed several possible scenarios for allocating the remaining $140,000: a 1 percent increase for all instructional employees, a 2 percent increase for all instructional employees, a graduated increase beginning at six years of service, and a graduated increasing beginning at 11 years of service.
“We compare well to other systems in the state for starting teachers,” Foster said, “but we don’t fare well as teachers’ years of service increase.” As a result, Franklin County teachers’ salaries are $1,300 below the state average.
The board favored the graduated increase beginning at the sixth year of service. The cost of the increase, $166,000, would just slightly exceed the $140,000 necessary to meet the BEP requirement. Since it was a work session meeting, no vote was taken.
The board doesn’t expect to receive information about the increase in BEP funding from the state until after the regular board meeting May 13. Bean said a special called meeting would probably be needed to approve the budget.
Taking up the dilemma proposed by students wanting to attend kindergarten at a school different from their zoned school, Bean asked for the board’s advice.
Bean has received a number of requests which, if granted, would require an additional teacher at Sewanee and one less teacher at Clark Memorial.
“In the past if it did not affect the number of teachers, we’ve honored the request,” said Board Chair CleiJo Walker.
Bean said in some cases refusing the request would create a hardship. He cited as “legitimate” out-of-zone requests by students who had a sibling at the school or a parent who worked there. He viewed less favorably requests based on not liking the teachers at the in-zone school.
“It’s at your discretion since there’s no policy,” said Vice-Chair Lance Williams.
Bean also called the board’s attention to possible liability from parents driving students to school events, citing the upcoming cheerleading camp in Florida.
“I have concerns about the cars,” Bean said, “but we don’t have anything in terms of policy that says, ‘no.’ If there’s an accident, we’ll get sued.”
The only limitation on the practice, according to Bean, is the schools’ insurance policy, which requires parents transporting students to carry high liability insurance. But Bean stressed, “If it’s a school sanctioned event, we’re liable regardless, whether the students travel by school bus, a rented van, or parents’ cars.”