​School Board Struggles to Slash Budget

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

The Franklin County School Board met for a special called meeting on June 5 in an effort to reduce the budget by $380,000. The County Finance Committee rejected the budget the board approved on May 24.
“They (the committee) sent it back to us and asked us to make cuts,” said Director of Schools Stanley Bean. The budget requested $893,883 in new revenue to cover a 2 percent raise for all personnel, certified and non-certified; a 1.5 percent raise for contract bus drivers; $100,000 for Pre-K due to a reduction in state funding; and $175,818 for increased health insurance costs.
“It’s our decision what we take back,” said Bean. The Finance Committee gave no advice on what to cut.
Bean, Board Chair CleiJo Walker, Assistant Superintendent Linda Foster and County Deputy Finance Director Cindy Latham met to consider possible reductions. The group proposed cutting the Pre-K request in half and reducing all raises to 1 percent, decreasing the total request from the county by $380,000.
“The two percent raise for teachers is the last thing I’d take out,” said board member Chris Guess.
Guess proposed using money from the reserve fund balance to pay the raises for personnel and bus drivers. “If we run out of money and the county won’t provide assistance, we close the schools.”
Drawing on the fund balance to pay the raises would drop the money held in reserve below $2.5 million. Latham previously recommended holding at least $2.5 million in reserve in order for the school system to be able to make payroll, since receipt of projected revenue often lags behind expenses. By law, the school system is required to hold at least 3 percent of operating expenses in reserve (for 2018–19 approximately $1.36 million).
“If we give the raise, it’s ours forever,” said Bean, offering another caveat to the school system funding the wage increases.
Board member Lance Williams argued for asking the county commission to fund school system personnel raises at the same level as county employees’ raises.
County Commissioner Dave Van Buskirk pointed out “the raise could be zero.” He advised the board to document the need for a 2 percent teacher raise with data showing Franklin County teachers earned less than teachers in surrounding counties. “That will sell it,” Van Buskirk insisted.
“Tullahoma, Manchester and Fayetteville city schools pay much better than we do,” said Foster. “We’ve lost good teachers to these schools.”
Rejecting all wage cuts, the board combed the budget for other reductions.
The board agreed to cut $5,000 for classroom desks and chairs; $15,000 for athletic field maintenance; $10,500 for tables, chairs and supplies in the Director of Schools budget; $2,500 for equipment in the Human Resources budget; $5,000 for maintenance equipment (i.e., mowers, etc.); and $24,000 for fuel, bargaining fuel costs won’t rise.
The board also agreed to cut by half money for proposed construction, including a transportation garage and roof at Huntland School, saving $160,000, and cut money to fund a desperately needed upgrade to the speaker system in the Franklin County High School auditorium, saving $25,000.
Williams suggested the board could direct additional funds to the speaker upgrade if the school system had money left at the end of the year.
With much reluctance, the board reduced certified substitute teachers’ pay from $80 to $75, expressing concerns about attracting quality substitutes, which saved $12,000. The board also reluctantly agreed to save $63,000 by eliminating one social worker position and relying instead on support from the non-profit Centerstone, which provides mental health care.
At the regular board meeting June 11, the school board will vote on a revised budget reflecting the agreed upon changes.