School system budget brings employee pay back to ‘09 level

Grady County School Superintendent Lee M. Bailey unveiled his proposed 2014-2015 operating budget to members of the board of education last Wednesday night and school system employees will likely be pleased with the plan.
The budget presented by Bailey and Finance Officer Dan Broome restores full pay to the school system’s certified staff, as well as to clerical, maintenance, school food service and transportation department personnel.
“For the last several years, the budget has been balanced in essence by taking money out of the pockets of our teachers. First and foremost, the school board and I wanted to restore all furlough days and the local supplements in this budget. It will depend on what the tax digest figures come in at, but we are proposing to hold the millage rate to the current 14.2 mills,” Superintendent Bailey said.
Local school system employees will see their pay restored to what it was in 2008. According to Broome, 2009 was the year the system cut local supplements and reduced the number of work days for employees.
Broome said the school system is currently operating on over $500,000 less in ad valorem taxes than in 2009, but is able to balance its budget due to increased state funding and the elimination of 20 to 25 employees.
“It’s kinda nice when a plan works out. Our plan in 2009 was to reduce the level of staffing in order to maintain our educational program and maintain the benefits of the remaining staff,” Broome said.
The proposed budget also includes raises for school bus drivers and School Nutrition Program staff.
“These two groups are our lowest paid employees. You all know what a time we’ve had getting bus drivers so, hopefully, this modest increase will help in that effort,” Broome said.
The finance officer said the school system’s most experienced drivers have 15 years experience, while five to 10 years ago the average experience was more than 30 years.
Under the proposed plan, bus drivers would be paid a base salary of $9,000 annually plus a supplement based on years of experience. Broome has budgeted $16,000 in new money to fund the increase.
According to Broome, School Nutrition Program Director Rhonda Keve is in the process of completing a new salary schedule for SNP staff, which he said he will forward to the board once it is finished. He also noted that all of those wages are paid with SNP funds.
Broome is anticipating an increase of $1.7 million in state funding over the current fiscal year. “We were fortunate that our local fair share went down and we picked up some on equalization,” he said.
Due to the declining value of the county’s tax digest and the board’s decision not to increase the millage rate, Broome said the proposed budget is basically “break even.”
Since 2009, Broome said tax collections have dropped 17 percent. At the current value of a mill of tax, the finance officer said it would take a 1.2 mill increase to generate the same amount of local school taxes the system was collecting in 2009.
“Our income is $571,000 more with $560,000 less in local ad valorem taxes,” Broome pointed out. He also produced figures showing that total expenditures are $118,000 less than they were in 2009.
Although overall expenses are down, there has been dramatic growth in the system’s cost for teacher retirement and health insurance premiums for system personnel.
“Fringe benefits have increased over $1 million since 2009,” Broome told school board members.
The proposed 2014-2015 operating budget is one of the few in the last six years that is not balanced by using a transfer from the school system’s cash reserves. The current budget was balanced with $625,000 being shifted from fund balance into the general fund. According to Broome, the proposed budget has sufficient revenue to cover that appropriation, as well as the projected $682,000 to restore employee pay and local supplements.
Broome said he was pleased to report that the system’s cost for employer health insurance costs are unchanged. The finance officer had anticipated an increase in the cost for noncertified staff, but Gov. Nathan Deal took action to delay the increase.
The system currently pays $945 per person per month for certified staff health insurance and $596.20 per person per month for noncertified staff.
Broome’s projected budget includes an increase to cover the teacher retirement employer match that is going up from 12.28 percent to 13.15 percent.
Board member Drew Pyrz questioned the $150,000 decrease in the allotment for textbook purchases in the new budget. Broome said that Assistant Superintendent Demetrius Cox said that $100,000 would cover the needs for the upcoming fiscal year.
However, Broome said that, in the future, the board would likely have to restore funding for textbooks in the general fund rather than to fund purchases out of sales tax proceeds.
According to the finance director, sales tax proceeds can be used to purchase actual books, but cannot be used for the purchase of a licensing fees for texts that are downloaded from a “cloud.”
Board member Teresa Gee Harris questioned the $56,400 decrease in funding for instructional coordinators. Assistant Superintendent Cox explained that Northside Principal Dr. Gloria Fuller had requested the position be eliminated at her school. Duties will be split among existing personnel, according to Mrs. Cox.
“Does the superintendent think that is good for our students?” Ms. Harris asked.
Superintendent Bailey said that he and his administrative team meet constantly with school principals and would evaluate the situation as the new school term begins.
Assistant Superintendent Cox told the board that Dr. Fuller had guaranteed that there would be someone who would be responsible for testing at Northside and would ensure the proper security for testing.
“It’s definitely putting more work on the school counselor,” Mrs. Cox said. Former Instructional Coordinator Jan Leesburg has transferred to a teaching position at Washington Middle School.
“If this doesn’t work, what is our plan? I don’t want this to impact student achievement,” Ms. Harris said.
Superintendent Bailey noted that Northside is the smallest school in the system, and he said the central office will closely monitor the situation.
Ms. Harris also questioned the $95,700 increase in central office administration expense. According to Broome, the majority of the increase is the creation of the new A.L.P.H.A. director position, which is filled by Danielle Jones.
Board member Pyrz asked why the cost of utilities was not reduced since the school system had dug a well at Cairo High School to irrigate athletic fields. Broome said that this is the first summer that the well will have been used and he maintained the current level of expense until the true value of savings can be measured.
Superintendent Bailey suggested the board continue to review the budget and to funnel any additional questions through Chairman Jeff Worsham to eliminate duplications.
As in recent years, the board will operate under spending resolutions and will plan to adopt a final budget and set a millage rate later in the summer once the county’s tax digest is completed.
“I want to applaud our finance officer for his diligence in developing the 2014-2015 budget. It is a sound spending plan, but the renewal of the sales tax for education in November will be critical to our school system,” Bailey said.

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