BOE budget

Teachers to get raises; aging bus fleet would be updated

Pierce County School teachers will get a significant raise paid for by the state and almost a third of the system’s bus fleet will be replaced under the school system’s proposed $34.8 million budget for FY20.

The numbers represent an increase of almost $3 million over last year’s budget of $31.9 million.

All of the numbers are tentative and are subject to change, but those are the figures school board members had under consideration as they got their first look at the proposed spending plan at a work session Thursday night.

School superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith said the budget proposal represented several weeks of work by the school system’s department heads, principals and staff.

Board members had the opportunity to hear from those who drafted the proposal during a wide-ranging, two-and-a-half-hour long, supper budget work session. The meal was prepared by School Nutrition Director Becky Swain and her staff.

“We are going to share lots of information with you tonight,” Dr. Smith said in opening the evening. “Don’t go away from here with unanswered questions. That’s why we are having this work session. We want you to ask questions.”

Assistant superintendent for finance LeVance Gay gave a power-point overview of the budget, highlighting funding and enrollment trends and giving background on revenue sources and expenditures.

Gay pointed out the state has finally eliminated austerity cuts it put in place after the 2003 recession, but not before taking some $21.4 million in funding from Pierce County over that time. Meanwhile, Gay pointed out Pierce County’s enrollment has dropped by about 100 students over the last decade. Since enrollment is tied to funding, Pierce County Schools lost about $170,000 over the past year.

Gay said state funding is still subject to change, but projections put the revenue at about $34.8 million. Gay said total budget requests are about $1.7 million higher than last year’s expenditures of $32.9 million. He said if all items are funded, the school system would still be under budget by about $123,000. He projects cash reserves at the end of the year to be about $6.8 million.

Gay said he could include all the new spending requests without having to ask for a millage rate increase.

The biggest increase in the budget would be about $1.1 million to fund Governor Brian Kemp’s signature campaign promise in 2018 — giving teachers a raise.

The exact amount is still fluctuating in the waning days of this year’s General Assembly, but the raise will be somewhere around $3,000 per teacher.

Gay pointed out those raises will be covered by state funds.

However, the local board of education will have to fund raises for non-certified personnel and support staff. Estimated cost to provide raises to non-certified staff locally is about $250,000.

The other big ticket expenditure for the coming year will be to purchase 12 new school buses at a cost of almost $1 million. The 12 new buses represents replacing about one-third of the system’s entire fleet.

Transportation director Jason Long told board members the school system had put off upgrading the fleet following the austerity cuts in 2003.

The lack of upgrades, combined with chronic motor problems caused by Environmental Protection Agency guidelines have left the fleet decimated.

In addition to the bus purchases, Long also asked for a training room and upgrades to the fencing and parking lot at the bus barn and for funding for training officers and for air conditioning and video surveillance upgrades on buses.

Long also informed board members the system’s GSBA insurance had totaled the bus involved in the accident at Yellow Bluff two months ago. The insurance company paid out $2,500 for the bus with the system keeping the wrecked vehicle to salvage parts, tires and the motor from it. The bus was a 2003 model and had over 200,000 miles on it.

The question of what to do with the old high school once the new high school is completed was also discussed at the meeting.

Gay said there is about $1.5 million in funding in the sales tax fund for capital outlay projects. Those funds would be combined with about $1 million in funding for the new high school set aside to determine what to do with the old one.

The capital outlay funds would also be used to fund a covered walkway at Midway Elementary, parking lot and track improvements at the middle school, insulation installation and mechanical lifts for the maintenance department and some of the transportation upgrades Long talked about with existing buses.

In other, general budget expenditures, about $62,000 was included for extended day for reading intervention for teachers at all three elementary schools. An additional $22,000 was set aside for coaching supplement increases at the middle school.

Additional funding was added to the high school’s budget to fund a new ag mechanics teacher, summer-time hours for the athletic trainer and more grounds and maintenance staff for the larger, new school campus.

Additional funds were also included for raises for principals and assistant principals to make them uniform with each other.

Funding is also included for student services for reading intervention and tele-health services.

School board members, particularly board chair Linda Zechmann and first district board member Jack Saussy, asked questions about how much of the increases are permanent.  

No binding decisions were made on any of the requests. The board will discuss the proposed budget again at their next regular meeting.

The budget must be set by the end of June.