School Board Approves Budget with Large Shortfall

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the May 24 special called meeting, the Franklin County School Board approved a $47.2 million dollar budget that will require drawing $2.6 million from the reserve fund balance to meet the revenue shortfall. On the expense side, the budget reflects a 2 percent raise for all school employees ($592,724), a $175,818 increase in health insurance costs, $100,000 for the Pre-K program due to loss of state funding, and a 1.5 percent raise for contract bus drivers ($23,341).
On the revenue side, the budget includes a request for an addition of $893,883 from the county to meet these expenses.
“If you take out the salary increases and the increase in health insurance costs, the budget only increases 1.83 percent over last year,” said school board member Lance Williams. “That is not a lot on a budget this size.”
In the discussion prior to the vote, board member Adam Tucker said he would vote for the budget, but objected to the low wage paid to teachers. Tucker computed the average hourly wage for teachers at $25 per hour. “At the Nissan plant the starting wage for line workers is $23-$25 per hour.”
County Commissioner Dave Van Buskirk said the board could increase teachers’ salaries by drawing more from the fund balance.
“No we can’t,” said Tucker. “County Deputy Finance Director Cindy Latham recommends we don’t drop the fund balance below $2.5 million.”
The projected $2.6 million draw on fund balance will cut the amount held in reserve nearly in half.
The fund balance is a reserve that is maintained in case of unexpected expenses or lack of revenue. An equally large draw next year would nearly deplete the fund balance and put the school system in violation of state law. By state law, the school board must keep 3 percent of its operating budget as a reserve.
“Those of us on the board for seven or eight years have seen this coming,” said school board member Chris Guess. “We are not in the money making business. We’re in the education business.”
At the last meeting, the school board requested adding a school psychologist and increasing certified substitute teachers pay to $80 to attract qualified substitutes. The budget expenses reflected these additions.
Addressing the board’s concern about safety in light of recent school shootings, the budget includes $14,000 for implementing the Raptor visitor background check program at all schools and $6,000 for the Interquest Detection Canines program approved earlier in the meeting. The Interquest contract will provide for searches by dogs trained to detect drugs, alcohol, weapons and ammunition at the middle schools and high schools.
The board scrutinized the budget for possible cuts.
Van Buskirk said a recent county commissioner training recommended dividing school budget expenses by the total number of students and comparing the figure from year to year with a view to increases or decreases in enrollment. “Franklin County School enrollment decreased by six percent,” Buskirk pointed out.
“The schools have become all things to all people,” Williams said. “We now have nurses and social workers. It’s a different world. These are things we may have needed but didn’t have. If we had to cut six percent, it means cutting services to the detriment of some of the kids.”
In other business, the board approved abolishing three certified and 22 non-certified positions. Most of the positions were eliminated due to “lack of students,” said Assistant Superintendent Linda Foster. In the case of Pre-K educational assistants, the state had withdrawn funding.

The board also voted not to take Tennessee Ready test scores into account when calculating students’ grades. Board Chair CleiJo Walker said by state law the test scores could count for up to 15 percent of a student’s final grade.

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