Franklin County Schools: Midyear Raise-Bonus Quashed

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the special called Dec. 17 meeting of the Franklin County School Board to discuss a possible midyear raise or bonus for certified and classified employees, county Finance Director Andrea Smith presented a detailed analysis of the fund balance reserve and the projected and possible draws on the account. Rather than an excess that could be used for teacher and hourly-employee raises, Smith’s calculations showed the fund balance in the red.

Year-end projections call for $9.5 million remaining in the fund balance. Smith explained, of that amount, $4.3 million was listed as restricted funds, ranging from money for retirement stabilization to donations, and could not be used for other purposes. The fund balance also included $3.9 million allocated to the Trane energy efficiency upgrades. In addition, by law, the county must keep 3 percent of annual operating expenses (currently $1.5 million) available in the fund balance. Smith maintained $1.5 million was not sufficient since the first payroll went out before the schools received state funding and revenue from property tax. She recommended the district keep an operations fund of $3 million available. Using those calculations, the fund balance fell $1.7 million short.

At the Dec. 12 meeting, the board discussed drawing on the fund balance to give employee bonuses or raises. Tempering the unwelcome news at the Dec. 17 meeting, Director of Schools Stanley Bean said he anticipated the new state funding formula TISA would make an additional $2 million available to the schools, but he did not expect receiving confirmed figures until March.

“If we plan to use that [TISA money] for salaries, it could be significant,” said board Vice Chair Lance Williams.

Human Resources Supervisor Linda Foster prepared projections for the meeting. Her calculations showed a $2,000 starting salary raise for certified employees would cost the district $1.3 million, and an 8.75 percent raise ($3,553 starting salary) would cost $2.2 million. Currently Franklin County Schools certified employee’ starting salaries fall $1,400-$1,500 below neighboring districts.

Board member Sarah Marhevsky pointed out the school nutrition program had a separate budget and fund balance. Marhevsky asked if cafeteria workers could receive a raise. She stressed cafeteria workers had the lowest starting salary, just $11.25 per hour, with all other hourly employees beginning with at least $12. According to Foster, Director of School Nutrition Vonda Bradford said her budget could accommodate a 0.25 cent per hour raise. Smith said she was confident the school nutrition program had adequate money in its fund balance.

“If we choose not to give bonuses or raises, we’re justified in saying everybody has to wait,” board member Linda Jones argued.

The cafeteria workers’ wage “is the only thing we can do something about,” Marhevsky said.

Student board representative Cason Orr, concurred. “You’ve got to do something, even it it’s just baby steps. There’s got to be some action that comes out of this meeting.”

Smith noted if the school nutrition fund balance got too high, the state would require the program to invest in updating the kitchens or similar capital outlay.

Foster will ask Bradford what amount of cafeteria-worker hourly wage increase she felt comfortable with. The board will revisit the wage increase for cafeteria workers at the January meeting.

“We can’t leave this discussion without underscoring that as soon as we have some figures and we can make projections [on wages], we intend to do that,” board member Sara Liechty insisted.

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