​School Board Revises Budget for the Fourth Time

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the July 8 meeting following two hours of deliberation, the Franklin County School Board approved a fourth round of amendments making additional cuts to the 2019-20 budget. An alternate proposal granting a 2 percent raise to support employees, a 1.5 percent raise to contract bus drivers, and years-of-service step increases for all certified employees failed to receive enough votes to pass.

On July 2, the Franklin County Finance Committee rejected the school board’s third budgeting attempt that slashed over $500,000 in addtion to $300,000 in cuts from a previous budget. The additional cuts satisfied the Finance Committee’s concerns about drawing down the reserve fund balance to dangerously low levels, but the Finance Committee objected to removing the raises for classified employees, contract bus drivers, and certified employees who did not receive step increases. The proposed county budget includes 2.8 percent raises for highway department and solid waste department employees and 2 percent raises in all other departments, excluding the school system.

To satisfy the Finance Committee’s objection, Director of Schools Stanley Bean worked with his staff last week to revise the school system budget to include raises for classified employees, contract bus drivers, and step increases for all certified employees. Bean noted Mayor David Alexander agreed to review the property tax levy, taking into account the reduction in the schools’ share of the total over the past seven years.

“That’s a good faith effort on Alexander’s part. We need to make a good faith effort on our part, as well,” said Bean.

To balance the expense of the raises, Bean proposed cutting $200,000 for unplanned positions, $15,000 for bus garage supplies, $100,000 for bus garage construction, and returning $125,000 to the fund balance previously earmarked for the bus garage.

Over the weekend, Deputy Director of Finance Cindy Latham found an error in the reporting of prior encumbrances in the budget reviewed by the Finance Committee on July 2. The error zeroed out the impact of the recent cuts proposed by Bean, meaning his proposed budget would leave only $2.5 million in the fund balance.

Vice Chair Lance Williams spoke against approving the budget. “We took $1.2 million from the fund balance this year, and the proposed budget requires taking $1.696 million from the proposed budget next year. We are spending more than we are receiving. Our goal should be to have a balanced budget.”

By law, the reserve fund balance must contain 3 percent of the budget. Williams stressed if the fund balance continued to drop at that current level, it would fall below the 3 percent minimum requirement in two years.

Williams and board member Chris Guess voted against including the pay raises in the budget. Board members Linda Jones, Christine Hopkins, Sara Liechty, and Chair Cleijo Walker voted for including the raises. A majority of five out of eight members is needed for the board to pass a measure. The board is short two members due to the death of board member Gary Hanger and the resignation of Adam Tucker.

The board approved Bean’s proposed budget without the raises, which will leave the fund balance at just under $3 million.

The board will have an opportunity to discuss the 2019-20 budget with the county commission at a special workshop July 23. The commission will vote on the full county budget July 29.

According to Bean, if the county commission rejects the school system budget, the school board will have 10 days to make additional revisions. If the county commission again rejects the school system’s budget, the schools will be funded at the 2018-19 level. If the county commission fails to approve an increase in school funding for three consecutive years, the state will mandate an annual increase of 3 percent.