Franklin County School Board Approves $10,000 Bus Route Increase

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

After long debate at the June 20 meeting, the Franklin County School Board voted to give the bus owner/drivers the $10,000 increase per route they requested at the May 16 budget workshop. How the increase will be funded rests in the hands of the county commission.

The draft budget called for a 15 percent increase for all three components of owner/drivers pay (base rate per route, seats per bus, and mileage). The draft budget also lowered the fuel bonus trigger point from $3.73 to $3.

“That won’t work,” said Jan Lappin, spokesperson for the owner/drivers. At the May 16 workshop some drivers said they would find work somewhere else if they did not receive a substantial increase. Lappin pointed out her total increased earnings for the past four years was $8,000. Repair, fuel, and bus purchase costs had increased dramatically. “We have no health insurance, no liability insurance, no life insurance, no retirement, and we’re on call from 5:30 in the morning to 5:30 in the afternoon,” Lappin said. She argued the owner/drivers would receive little benefit from the lowered fuel bonus trigger point as she expected the cost of fuel to decrease.

Board member Sarah Marhevsky suggested leaving the fuel bonus trigger point the same and putting the money budgeted for the lowered trigger point toward increasing the base rate, making the base rate increase $5,000 per route.

Board member Chris Guess proposed leaving the trigger point the same and increasing the base rate to $10,000 per route. “What’s wrong with doing this and being told ‘no’ by the county commission?” Guess asked.

“They won’t necessarily say ‘no’,” said Director of School Stanley Bean. “They’ll say take it out of the fund balance.”

“Why can’t we make them tell us that?” Guess said.

At the outset of the budget discussion, Board Chair Cleijo Walker stressed “recurring expenses” should not be taken from the fund balance reserve.

“I’m super excited about more money for the bus drivers,” Marhevsky said, “but it makes me feel like we’re short-changing the rest of the employees.”

Guess said county departments were budgeting 5 percent for employee raises.

“Why should we ask for less than they’re giving county employees?” asked Board member Linda Jones.

Linda Foster, Human Resources Supervisor, said teachers’ average wage increase was $2,000, almost 5 percent, and all classified employees except for cafeteria workers had been brought up to at least $12 per hour.

“Twelve dollars an hour is nothing,” said Board member Christine Hopkins. “We shouldn’t be paying anyone less than $13-$14 per hour.”

The County Finance Committee will decide on budget requests July 7, said County Finance Director Andrea Smith. Increased property assessment valuations could mean more property tax revenue for the schools, but the commission could lower the property tax rate.

Updating the board on the Extended School Program, which may be discontinued due to lack of staff, Bean said six more employees left the program. The state advised him to seek a grant to fund the ESP.

The board approved an MOU to establish a Jobs for Tennessee Grads program to teach employability skills emphasizing resume writing, financial responsibility, job interview skills, dress etiquette, and community service. The nonprofit sponsoring the program will pay the instructor’s salary for the first year. The only cost to the school district will be $3,000 for half the insurance.

Bean announced he had signed an MOU with the city of Winchester to give the city access to the Memorial Activity Center after school hours and as school scheduling allowed. The city will pay the district a one-time fee of $46,875 and an annual fee of $28, 125.

The board approved a Tennessee School Board Association recommended change in the Attendance Policy, dropping the provision calling for students to lose their driver’s license for excessive absence. The board also approved a state mandated grading scale for high school students: A (90-100), B (80-89), C (70-79), D (60-69), F (0-59). Foster said the state maintained the standardized scale would be “more fair for students competing for scholarships.” On Foster’s recommendation, the board voted to adopt the new scale for grades 3-8, as well.

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