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Employee insurance cuts, scaling back bus purchases and changing the high school class schedule are main avenues the Franklin County Board of Education is begrudgingly considering to offset a $1.2 million budget shortfall.
The board worked through an initial draft Monday and the prognosis for the coming months is simple — more money is needed or something is going to have to give way.
Cindy Latham, Franklin County deputy director of finance, presented the board with information she has been working through to consider in adopting the school system’s 2014-15 budget.
Latham said later that the budget totals $42.39 million, and 3 percent of that amount — $1.271 million — is re-quired by the Tennessee De-partment of Education to be held in reserve status to meet state budget requirements.
She said, that in meeting the school system’s line item funding requests, only $186,000 would be left as reserve funds.
That leaves the board with either making some major cutbacks or asking the County Commission for additional money to offset the shortfall.
Board member Chris Guess summed up where he sees the situation stands.
“We’re going to have to have some help,” he said. “And I know this year there’ll be a blood-bath to get it.”
Director of Schools Dr. Rebecca Sharber said it’s been at least seven years since the County Commission approved a funding increase to the school system.
Board member Mike Holmes said that although the commission hasn’t increased funding, he can understand its collective rationale.
“They don’t want to raise taxes,” he said.
Board chairman Kevin Caroland said the board will have to assess its options and live with the outcome. He added that the school system has no authority to raise reve-nue — that’s in the County Commission’s hands.
“We can try our best to get them to give more money, but until that’s done, we’ll have to operate with what we have,” he said.
Board member Christopher McDonough said the county could consider a wheel tax, but “it’s a regressive tax.”
However, he said it’s time the commission could consider appropriating an increase to the school system.
“It’s not popular to tell people to raise their taxes be-cause (education through the school system) is an invest-ment,” he said, then referring to County Commission mem-bers. “They have to show some leadership. They have to be grown ups.”
The board agreed to look at options to cut expenditures and will review them at its May 5 work session, May 12 regular meeting and May 19 school committee meeting with the County Commission. All meetings are at the school system’s administration build-ing, 215 S. College St., and begin at 6:30 p.m.
The options discussed in-clude:
· Delaying to purchase three school buses that would cost a combined $267,000.
Board members are won-dering if some flexibility exists in state-level mileage and ve-hicle lifespan requirements to get extra life out of the existing bus fleet. They agreed state requirements are stringent, but there might be some flexibility available to delay the bus pur-chases.
· Cutting the amount paid toward employee insurance premiums from the full amount to 90 percent, which would save about $300,000.
· Returning Franklin County High School’s class structure from a “block sched-ule” to seven periods a day, which could reduce the re-quired teaching staff.
“Over time, it would save us some positions, but we don’t want a reduction in force,” Sharber said, adding that the move could save about $250,000.