Franklin County Schools Budgeting: Top Money Needs
by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
Compensation for bus drivers, maintenance employees, and the external aesthetic appearance of the schools and playgrounds topped the list in the budgeting discussion at the June 6 Franklin County School Board workshop. Concern about whether the schools would realize any revenue benefit from the increase in property valuation shadowed the discussion. The board also took up the difficulty in finding employees hampering the continuation of the after-school program.
Addressing the compensation grievances of bus owner/drivers, Director of Schools Stanley Bean proposed two remedies: lowering the trigger point for the fuel bonus from $3.73 per gallon to $3 per gallon and a compensation package increase of 4-5 percent, instead of the budgeted 2 percent. Bean noted, contrary to what the bus owners maintained at the May 16 workshop, they had been receiving an annual percentage increase on all three components of their compensation package, not just the salary. Bean said the $10,000 per route flat rate increase the bus owners requested was “not realistic” if they also received a fuel bonus.
“We’re going to lose these people,” insisted board member Chris Guess. “We can’t run the schools without the buses.”
Board member Sarah Marhevsky suggested giving the bus owners a combination of a percentage and flat rate increase. Another alternative would be a flat rate increase this year and an increased fuel bonus next year, said Board Vice Chair Lance Williams. He recommended a long-range plan that over time would guarantee the bus owners increased compensation.
Framing the issue about the shortage of maintenance employees, Deputy Finance Director Jenny Phillips said the district could not fill positions when maintenance employees retired. “We can’t keep up with what industry pays,” said Finance Director Andrea Smith. “And people with multiple skills [plumbing, electrical, carpentry] are hard to find.” Maintenance employees start at $11.75 per hour. “People who clean houses make $20-$25 per hour,” said board member Christine Hopkins. “Fast food workers start at $15 per hour,” Williams said.
The need to maintain the external appearance of the schools and playground areas, both for the children and to attract industry, prompted Bean to propose allocating $100,000 for a landscaping contractor, approximately $10,000 for each school. Bean also suggested hiring several high school juniors or seniors for summer “work-based learning” in the maintenance department.
The difficulty of keeping the Extended School Program in existence likewise hinged on lack of employees. “No one wants to work from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. for $12 per hour,” Phillips said. She pointed out parents typically employed as school support staff wanted to be home then with their children. “ESP coordinator Kim Nuckolls is very frustrated,” Bean said. “We’re trying to make it work.”
“I’m all for everybody getting a lot of money,” Bean said, “but there’s only so much money the county commission gives to us.” He also stressed, giving raises to one group and not the other would result in complaints. “I’d like to ask the county commission for an additional $1 million.”
Smith based the budget on the property tax revenue the schools received in 2020-2021. Although the recent property tax appraisals showed dramatically increased property values for many, the county commission could choose to lower the tax rate and keep the revenue the schools receive unchanged.
“Could we try to get the word out to the county commission not to drop the rate, because we need the money?” asked Marhevsky.
“They won’t do it,” Guess said. “It’s an election year.”