​Budget for Franklin County Schools Rejected a Third Time

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

After having the 2019-20 budget twice rejected by the County Finance Committee, the Franklin County School Board met in a special called session July 1 to draft a revised budget. The school board approved four cost cutting measures, slashing $500,000 from a budget that already reflected drastic cuts in instructional supplies and technology, postponed the long overdue refurbishing of the Franklin County High School auditorium PA system, and eliminated two teaching positions.

Citing a suggestion made by Finance Committee members to cut the budget 20 percent across the board, for a total of $9 million, Director of Schools Stanley Bean said, “That’s not possible.”

Bean also rejected the suggestion to cut wages and salaries by 20 percent, or $2.3 million, with a reduction in staffing.

At a meeting with Finance Committee member David Eldridge and County Mayor David Alexander, Bean was advised to cut staffing by “cutting where it does not hurt as much.”

“That implies someone matters,” Bean said. “That’s an insult to me.”

Bean likewise rejected the suggestion to reduce the budget by closing schools. Moving children to other schools would require additions to the remaining schools, Bean stressed. “Why spend money on schools that are already 60-70 years old?”

Addressing charges that the schools operated inefficiently, Bean pointed out that on the average BEP funding from the state only covered about 70 percent of teachers’ salaries. State requirements for which schools received limited or no funding like Pre-K, Response to Intervention programs, and annually increasing the money devoted to teachers’ salaries, further strained the school systems’ financial resources, Bean insisted. In addition, while the number of students had decreased by 426 over the past five years, the number of teachers had decreased correspondingly by 22.

Bean took issue with the reduction in the percent of property tax dollars received by the schools from 45 percent in 2012 to 38 percent at the present. If the schools had remained at the 45 percent level, the schools would have received an additional $8.3 million over the past five years, eliminating the school systems need to draw on the reserve fund balance each year.

By law, the fund balance must contain at least 3 percent of the annual budget. The repeated draws have pulled the fund balance down to a dangerously low level.

“We need to research how we can reduce the trend,” Bean said. He recommended formation of a committee including representatives from all county departments receiving tax dollars “to look at how taxes should be distributed in our county to find a way to fund our schools.”

Bean acknowledged that neighboring school districts received less in property tax revenue, but these districts received far greater amounts from sales tax and other sources like wheel taxes, Bean said.

To meet the demands of the finance committee and reduce the 2019-20 budget, Bean recommended four cost cutting measures.

One, no raises for bus drivers, classified employees, or certified employees, a $289,000 cut. (Note: to meet the state requirement of $295,000 in new money for teacher salaries, teachers will continue to receive degree advancement bonuses and step increases for years of service up to 20 years, but nothing beyond that.)

Two, reduce software purchases by $75,000.

Three, a $43,500 reduction in transportation expenses taken from technology, a bus driver doubling as a mechanic to avoid hiring another driver, and ambulance service donated free of charge for the year.

Four, reducing the bus garage construction budget by $50,000.

Deputy Director of Finance Cindy Latham found an additional reduction in estimated expenditures totaling $50,000.

School Board Member Chris Guess voted against the $500,000 in budget cuts.

“I resent the implication that we’ve been flippant with our money,” he said. “If we continue to receive a lesser percent of property taxes, we’ll be looking at more cuts next year.”

At the July 2 Finance Committee meeting, the school board budget was rejected a third time by a vote of 4-3, with Barbara Finney, David Eldridge, David Alexander and Johnny Woodall voting against the budget. The Finance Committee meets again Monday, July 8 to review all the budgets before sending the budget to the full county commission meeting on July 15.