Educating the FC School Committee

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

On Jan.10, the Franklin County School Board met with the Franklin County Commission School Committee. “I’d heard there was all this fluff in the school budget” conceded School Committee Chair William Anderson, acknowledging his misconception. Meeting discussion highlighted misunderstandings about the reserve fund balance and the desperate need for teacher and hourly employee wage increases.

County Finance Director Andrea Smith explained sales tax, property tax, and BEP money from the state funded the schools. In the past two years, Federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) money enabled the school district to return money to the fund balance. However, of the $13.4 million anticipated ending fund balance for the current fiscal year, $4.3 million consisted of restricted funds assigned to specific allocation categories. In addition, $3.9 million had been set aside for the Trane energy efficiency upgrades. That left $5.2 million in the fund balance. In addition, the school district needed to keep $3 million available to make monthly payroll in July and August before BEP money and property tax revenue began coming in, Smith said.

Director of Schools Stanley Bean concurred, “Five million [in the fund balance] is a healthy amount.” He pointed out returning money to the fund balance had enabled the school district to take on the Trane project which will save money in the long run. “We didn’t ask for any new money this past year, the first time in a long time,” Bean said, but he went on to stress, “We don’t want to cut teachers’ wages. Teachers are underpaid already.” The low teacher wage had compromised the school district’s ability to hire teachers, Bean insisted. The low wage compared to neighboring districts was the cumulative effective of many years of low or no teacher raises. Neighboring Coffee County recently raised property taxes 1-2 percent to increase teacher wages, Bean said. The school district’s budget goal for the coming year was to increase the wage by 8.75 percent, the Social Security cost of living adjustment amount.

The school district anticipates receiving an additional $4 million from the new state funding formula TISA, according to Bean, although he noted, other expenses must come from the TISA money as well.

Anderson favored an 8.75 percent raise for all employees. He asked if the $4 million would be sufficient to give across the board raises without a property tax increase. Bean replied, “It will be real close. We don’t want a property tax increase any more than anyone else.”

Anderson also asked if an 8.75 percent teacher raise would be sufficient to make Franklin County schools competitive with neighboring districts. School Board Chair Cleijo Walker explained it was difficult to predict, “You’re playing catch up all the time. You think you’re doing something really good, and they [other districts] do more.”

Board member Sarah Marhevsky said the state goal for starting teacher salaries was $45,000 by 2025. She suggested a 11 percent teacher wage increase. “If we do 11 percent now, that will put us at $45,066 before they make us do it.”

Bean observed a 10 percent increase in the starting salary, $40,600, would get the district close to $45,000.

Williams suggested eliminating unfilled positions to decrease budget expense. “We cut positions when we have the opportunity,” Bean said. Smith explained the budget included $150,000 for adding new teachers to meet the mandated student-teacher ratio if enrollment increased.

County Mayor Chris Guess agreed, acknowledging the need to plan for increased enrollment. He praised the schools for careful management of finances which enabled them to have fund balance money available for the Trane project and building maintenance and repair.

Going forward the school board and county school committee will meet on the second Tuesday of the month. Anderson asked for budget information detailing “what your needs are” at the next meeting. County commissioner Carolyn Wiseman asked for a teacher pay-scale comparison to other counties.

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