Franklin County Schools: Budget, No Teacher Guns

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the May 13 meeting the Franklin County School Board approved the 2024-2025 budget, with one board member abstaining. In response to the legislative update, Director of Schools Cary Holman weighed in on the new law allowing teachers to carry guns.

Deputy Director of Finances Jenny Phillips presented two budget scenarios: a 3 percent raise versus a 5 percent raise for teachers and support staff. The district is required by law to offer a starting teacher salary of $50,000 by the 2027-2028 school year. For the 2023-2024 school year, the starting teacher salary was $44,660. “Over the next three years there will have to be a 12 percent increase in salaries,” Holman said. County employee wages were expected to increase 3.2 percent in the coming year, Phillips said. Both budgets will require a significant withdrawal from the reserve fund balance, $2,456,868 and $3,147,226 respectively.

“We might as well get there [to the $50,000 goal] sooner instead of later,” said board member Sarah Marhevsky. “We continually talk about the teacher shortage.” The larger increase would help with retaining current staff and attracting new teachers, Marhevsky pointed out.

“I’d rather go to them [the county commission] and say, ‘we have to be at X,’” argued Vice Chair Lance Williams. “Three years from now the county commission can’t say no.”

“[The 5 percent budget] will come right back to us,” said Board Chair Cleijo Walker. “You can’t keep dipping into the fund balance until it’s gone. You can’t live out of a savings account.”

Holman reminded the board under the new TISA funding formula only 70 percent of the per-pupil allocation came from the state. The budget asks the county commission for an additional $308,000 from property taxes. County Mayor Chris Guess cautioned, “People think property tax is a windfall.”

Marhevsky abstained from the budget vote.

Alerting the board to another financial concern, Holman said the state had not updated its funding formulas since 2017. “As a result, some districts were overpaid, and some were underpaid. We were overpaid. The state has instituted what it calls a ‘smooth payback.’ For the next seven years we will be decreased by $25,000 in Title I funds and $10,000 in IDEA funding.”

The law allowing school faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns on school grounds stipulates permission be granted by the chief of local law enforcement, the director of schools, and the building principal. “No teacher in Franklin County School District will be allowed to carry guns in our schools,” Holman insisted. “We will continue to rely on the support of our sheriff’s department and other trained professionals in that line of work. Our teachers will continue to have only instructional expectations.” Mayor Guess, a former law enforcement officer, voiced support for Holman’s position.

Marhevsky provided an overview of two other legislative actions impacting public schools. The Freedom Scholarship Act was tabled. The Senate and House versions of the bill “were too far apart,” Marhevsky speculated. The legislature left money funding the program in the budget to avoid the need to revote the financing if the bill passes in the next session.

Another bill provided a process enabling students retained in the fourth grade to move on to fifth grade. “The parents, principal, and teachers can meet and if they feel like there’s enough evidence this child will be fine in the fifth grade, he or she can move on,” Holman explained. High density tutoring will be required in the fifth grade. The bill has not been signed by the governor yet.

Human Resources Supervisor Roger Alsup announced the district would initiate an “exit survey” for teachers not renewed, retiring, or resigning. Teachers not renewed will have the option of requesting a meeting to discuss the decision.

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