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Jenkins favors taxpayer relief over ending teacher furloughs

If the 2013-2014 proposed budget for the Grady County School System stands as presented teachers, administrators and school system staff will continue to suffer a minimum of five furlough days and no local supplement.
Superintendent Lee M. Bailey and Finance Officer Dan Broome presented the proposed budget to board members during a work session Monday night at the VanLandingham Center.
As proposed, the budget includes a deficit of $275,965 which Broome is proposing to make up with a combination of millage rate adjustment and withdrawing cash from the school system’s fund balance to shore up the operating budget.
The school system’s overall revenue is increasing by $196,955, but the actual amount of money collected in local property taxes will be declining as a result of a 2.5 percent drop in the county’s tax digest.
Broome is recommending increasing the current millage rate of 14.2 mills up to 14.4 mills which is the most it can be increased without requiring three public hearings on a tax increase.
Even if the board increases the millage rate to 14.4 mills, the system would actually collect $83,661 less than was collected last year.
Although total revenue is increasing, the expenses of the school system are increasing at an even greater scale.
Expenses are budgeted to increase $750,412 over the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2014.
“Ninety percent of our budget is salaries and benefits,” Broome told board members.
Of the $750,412 increase, $475,800 is the increase in salaries, health insurance and higher contributions for teacher retirement. On top of that is $150,000 that is budgeted for the school system’s virtual school program, $92,400 for custodial expenses through a third party and another $45,000 increase in projected fuel expense.
“There are really no new cuts in this budget. We are basically maintaining the same staff we currently have,” Broome said.
The only new items to the budget are the $150,000 for virtual school and an additional foreign language teacher at Cairo High School.
Board member Allen Jenkins said Monday night he would oppose an increase in the millage even if it is revenue neutral.
“What about leaving it where it is. That’s how I look at it. They’ve reassessed your property and say it is worth less than it was and you want me to pay the same as last year. I’m not willing to go up personally,” Jenkins said.
The District 3 board member indicated his desire to make up the deficit out of the school system’s approximately $3 million fund balance.
Superintendent Bailey pointed out that teachers, administrators and school system personnel are suffering as much or more than local taxpayers.
“Our teachers are still taking furloughs and making less in local supplements, so you are getting over $900,000 from them rather than spreading it out across the county. That’s my argument,” Superintendent Bailey said.
According to Broome, the system has reduced salaries for teachers, administrators and school personnel by $934,000 through a combination of furlough days and cuts in local supplements.
“The teachers have a choice if they want to work here or not. I’d like to give every day back if we could, but I don’t want to hurt every individual who is paying taxes. It’s a balancing act,” Jenkins said.
Both Bailey and Broome are hopeful as the board continues the budget talks that the school board will consider adding back some of the lost pay for school system employees.
Broome also noted that even though Superintendent Bailey has appointed two assistant superintendents, he has cut out the full-time Title 1/Pre-K director position and shifted those responsibilities.
Under Bailey’s reorganization, former Title 1/Pre-K Director Jackie Powell has been transferred back to the Crossroads alternative school. Assistant Superintendent Demetrius Cox is assuming the responsibility for the Pre-K program and Washington Middle School Instructional Coordinator Jackie McCurry is assuming duties of the Title 1 director. According to Broome, the Title 1 bookkeeper is housed at WMS and giving Mrs. McCurry the additional duties will work well since both people will be at the middle school.
“We are not saving the whole salary, but the majority of it,” Broome said.
The school system finance officer said changes were necessary in anticipation of reduced federal funding for Title 1.
“If we come up short on federal funds, we have to make it up with general funds. In the long run, these changes will save money for the general fund,” Broome said.
Although it is not in the current budget plan, Superintendent Bailey also voiced his interest in adding a new director who would be over the Pre-Advanced Placement program housed at Washington Middle School.
In addition to overseeing the Pre-AP program and recruiting students to participate in the program, this new position would also manage the virtual school program.
Virtual school was begun this year and can be utilized by homebound students as well as home schooled students. If home schoolers enroll in the virtual school, the school system earns state funding for those students.
Board member Teresa Gee Harris suggested that another assistant principal should be added to the Washington Middle School staff. According to Mrs. Harris, shifting Todd Jones to WMS from Cairo High School while he continues to serve as the athletic director could be a “recipe for disaster.”
Superintendent Bailey agrees that the school should have two assistant principals but, due to limited funding, he had suggested an additional part-time assistant principal.
“I’m afraid at certain times of the year the assistant principal will be more focused on his athletic director duties and Washington students will suffer,” Mrs. Harris said.
“He won’t be,” Vice Chairman Scott Higginbotham responded and added, “he is hired as an assistant principal first and athletic director second. I have no problem if we move the athletic director position back to CHS but all of a sudden the administration at Cairo High School is okay with it being at Washington.”
Superintendent Bailey corrected Higginbotham and said the decision to transfer Mr. Jones was “all on me,” and he said the CHS administration is not “happy” about it.
“If someone else needs to be athletic director, so be it,” Board member Jeff Worsham said.
Board members also discussed the supplements paid for assistant principal and decided an overall review of local supplements would be in order.
Board member Harris also asked if there was funding in the proposed budget for Roddenbery Memorial Library. According to Broome, there is a $25,000 appropriation for the library included in the budget.
During the discussion of increased health insurance expenses, Vice Chairman Higginbotham asked if the system should consider a self-funded insurance program to reduce costs. “It’s a big ticket item and something we could look further into or stay where we are,” Higginbotham said.
Broome assured the board he continues to monitor the system’s insurance program and talk with contemporaries with other systems to get a pulse for what other systems are doing.
The board is scheduled to meet again on the budget on Sunday, June 30, at 5 p.m. at the VanLandingham Center.

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