Franklin County Schools Hot Topics: Budget, Guns

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

“Seventy-eight percent of the budget is salaries and benefits,” said Director of Schools Cary Holman at the April 4 Franklin County School Board budget workshop. “We need to be very cognizant of trying to get to the $50,000 mark.” To be competitive with neighboring districts in the struggle to attract teachers, Franklin County has set a goal of offering a starting teacher salary of $50,000 by the 2027-2028 school year. Although the percentage allocated to salaries and benefits in the proposed 2024-2025 budget is consistent with the past two years, the 5 percent raises for teachers and support staff along with other cost increases will leave a $1.5 million budget shortfall. A second hot topic reared its head in a post-budget discussion about proposed state legislation allowing teachers to carry firearms. “It’s a bad idea,” insisted Franklin County Mayor Chris Guess, a former law enforcement officer.

Holman met with department heads reviewing the budget line by line. “Dr. Holman worked really hard to cut as much as he could,” said Deputy Director of Finances Jenny Phillips.

Holman explained that by the new TISA state funding formula intended to increase the allocation for teacher salaries, the state only provides 70 percent of the per pupil allocation, with the local governing body expected to contribute the remaining 30 percent. For Franklin County, that will amount to a mere $151 per student increase from the state, $700,000 total, leaving $308,000 for the county to provide.

The district could receive additional TISA funding for students with Unique Learning Needs (ULNs). Holman stressed the importance of “coding children correctly.” Giving an example, Holman said a student coded for the ULN’s English learner, dyslexia, and having an IEP program could result in an additional 20 percent TISA allocation for that student.

On the expense side, the certified employee pay scale provided a wage increase for teachers with 24 or more years of service; by last year’s scale there were no further wage increases after 23 years. “If we can get to 25 years, we’re competitive for this area,” said board member Sara Leichty. Moore County gives years of service increases up to 30 years and Manchester Schools up to 28 years.

Other budget highlights included a 15 percent increase in insurance costs, $750,000 to replace the roofs at Huntland and Rock Creek schools, and a $5,000 flat rate increase for contract bus drivers, rather than a mileage or seat-based increase.

“I thought the budget looked really good,” said Vice Chair Lance Williams. “We can request $308,000 [for the TISA shortfall] from the county commission and if they choose to give it to us, that reduces the money we’re taking out of the fund balance.” The district is required to maintain a fund balance (money held in reserve) of at least $1.6 million, 3 percent of the operations budget. “We can’t take fund balance money more and more for salaries,” said Board Chair Cleijo Walker. The district currently has $7.1 million in the fund balance. A $1.5 million draw to cover the shortfall would reduce the balance to $5.6 million.

Phillips stressed revenue numbers were based on last year’s figures and recommended the board wait for a final determination from the county finance committee before approving the budget, rather than voting at the April 8 board meeting.

Board member Sarah Marhevsky updated the board on proposed state legislation that would allow teachers to carry firearms. “You don’t want untrained, unexperienced people in schools with guns … Someone other than law enforcement in schools with guns is a bad idea,” Mayor Guess said. “Teachers and employees may not want to work in that environment,” Leichty said. Guess emphasized the danger of “a friendly fire” in an active shooter crisis. He predicted the Tennessee sheriff and police associations would lobby against the legislation. The bill has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and, following approval by the Senate Calendar Committee, will move to the senate floor for a vote. Marhevsky urged concerned citizens to contact their legislators.

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