School board sitting on $5 million in cash reserves

THE GRADY COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION began its budget review Thursday. Shown clockwise from bottom left are: Administrative Assistant Dana Pritchett, Assistant Superintendent Kevin Strickland, Vice Chairman John White, Chairman Robbie Chaplin, board members Laura Register, Jeff Worsham and Teresa Gee Harris, Finance Officer Dan Broome and School Superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard.

It appears that the Grady County Board of Education will have an easier time deciding on a spending plan for fiscal year 2017-2018 than they have had in recent years.
With cash reserves of approximately $5 million and about $1.8 million in additional revenue, the school board has moved past the days of furloughs and reducing staff.
All school system employees are slated to receive a two percent pay increase in the budget proposed by Grady County School Superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard and Finance Officer Dan Broome.
The school system is benefiting from a $834,050 increase in equalization. Broome said the increase in equalization funding made him “nervous” and although he verified the figure with state officials, he commented, “we’ll see how it plays out going forward.” Another concern raised by Broome is the increase in the employer match for teacher retirement, which went up from 14.27 percent to 16.81 percent and is to increase to 20 percent in 2019.
“The cost of staff not funded by the state will continue to grow to be a significant number,” Broome said.
The local school system earns state funding to pay the employer match for fringe benefits for teacher positions earned, but the cost of fringe benefits for any other staff member whose position is funded locally must be paid with local funds. The employer match for health insurance is now $945 per person per month, according to Broome.
In reviewing the proposed spending plan with school board members last week, Broome noted that $75,000 is budgeted to replace three computer labs. The board has set a priority on updating technology in the county’s public schools. An additional $21,600 is also included in the budget to maintain existing computers.
The budget includes $30,000 for new flooring at Whigham, Shiver and Cairo High schools. The school system is looking to utilize polished concrete floors where possible to reduce the expense of carpet and tile replacement and maintenance. The new facilities being built on the Southside Elementary School campus feature polished concrete floors.
A new expense in the 2017-2018 proposed budget is $12,000 in rental costs. The school system is leasing office space from the Chason Law Firm, next door to the school system’s central office, for offices of the school nutrition program and federal programs. Dr. Gilliard said he would be bringing back a recommendation for a long-term plan to address office space needs in the near future.
Also, the school system is budgeting $26,000 in additional expenses to fund a contract with Yancey Brothers to provide a mechanic for fleet repairs.
As presented, the budget includes the smallest deficit in the last three years at $44,600. Broome also noted that the system’s cash reserves is nearing the limit set by the state. The school system cannot have more than 15 percent of its annual operating budget in cash reserves.
Broome says that even without any growth in the tax digest the school board could maintain level tax rates and fund any resulting deficit with fund balance.
Dr. Gilliard complemented the board for its fiscal management and building up the healthy fund balance, but encouraged the board members to consider spending some of the fund balance on items the school system needs.
In particular, Dr. Gilliard suggested the board consider air conditioning the gyms at Washington and Whigham with money from the cash reserves. The superintendent is anticipating all of the money budgeted for science, social studies and English/language arts to come in below budget leaving additional money freed up to hire five parapros to assist in the system’s emphasized reading and math instruction.
Following through with direction by the school board, Dr. Gilliard updated the board members on a plan to hire five or six new art teachers who would begin work in August 2018. The school system is looking to offer art and music in all of the county’s schools. Dr. Gilliard said he would be alerting the art schools throughout the region about the system’s plan to hire additional art instructors.
Board vice chairman John White reminded the superintendent of the need for an adequate gym at Northside. Board member Teresa Gee Harris concurred and noted that when PTO meetings or school assemblies are held there is no facility at Northside to accommodate the crowd.
Dr. Gilliard noted that the issue of sufficient open campus space at Northside is also an issue to be considered. The board instructed the superintendent to have landscape architect Suzanne Finger develop a long-range plan for the Northside campus similar to the one done recently for the Southside campus to assess future needs and space requirements.
“I like that we are putting money where it impacts kids,” board member Laura Register noted.
The school board will discuss future budget work sessions at its July 11 monthly meeting.

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