The Board of Education’s request to have the Franklin County Commission approve a 7-cent property tax increase to balance the system’s budget appears to be taking a major step backward.
Voting against the funding request were committee members Eddie Clark, John Woodall, Sue Hill and David Eldridge.
Dr. Rebecca Sharber, the school system’s director and a Finance Committee, member cast the only vote to keep the 7-cent tax increase. Committee member Anthony DeMatteo was absent from the meeting.
The school board requested the 7-cent tax increase to generate new revenue and keep the system’s fund balance from dipping below the state mandated minimum requirements.
The Board of Education has been tasked with the reducing the Franklin County High School teaching staff by 14 by changing from a block schedule to seven periods a day, insurance cutbacks and delaying bus, computer software and library book purchases, to offset a budget shortfall and allow the school system to maintain a $2 million reserve fund balance.
Cindy Latham, Franklin County deputy director of finance, has said some board members have expressed that they would like to see a $3 million fund balance to cover unexpected expenditures.
She said recently that the budget totals $42.39 million, and 3 percent of that amount — $1.271 million — is required by the Tennessee Department of Education to be held in reserve status to meet state budget requirements.
However, board members have expressed concern about $1.271 million not being an adequate amount.
Although they said they would feel more comfortable with $3 million, amid tight financial times, settling for a $2 million balance would be a more feasible target.
The options the board has been discussing to balance its budget include:
• Delaying to purchase one of three much needed school buses that would cost $86,303
Board members are wondering if some flexibility exists in state-level mileage and vehicle 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 purchases. A new law was recently passed to extend life of buses to 18 years if they have fewer than 200,000 miles on them.
• Cutting the amount paid toward employee insurance premiums from the full amount to 90 percent, which would save about $300,000.
Latham told the board that the change would require the employees to each pay about $54 per month toward health insurance premiums for single coverage. The board has approved a bonus to go toward the affected employees to make up the difference in lost wages.
Latham said at the April 7 meeting, when the board began working on the budget, that to meet 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 had 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.”
Sharber had said it’s been at least 10 years since the County Commission approved a funding increase to the school system.
Board member Mike Holmes had said that although the commission hasn’t increased funding, he can understand its collective rationale.
“They don’t want to raise taxes,” he said.
School Board chairman Kevin Caroland had 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 revenue — 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.
Clark told the Finance Committee Wednesday the request is premature and isn’t necessary at this time.
“In my opinion we don’t increase taxes to increase fund balances that are not needed yet,” he said. “We might have to do it next year, but I don’t think we should do it yet.”
Sharber reminded the committee that the school board has not made a request for additional funds from the county since she started over six years ago.
“I’ve talked to commissioners in the past about an increase, and they said that we never formally asked for one, well now we are asking,” she said.
Sharber went on to say that school board has made cuts in its budget wherever it could.
“I listen to the requests from other departments asking for increases for things like maintenance, but if my copier breaks I am just going to have to walk down the hall to make copies, because we don’t have money in our budget for maintenance,” she said.
Sharber said that while most of the county departments are seeking a pay hike, the school system is not.
“We aren’t asking for any raises in this budget,” she said. “We are just trying to survive, but we can’t go on like this for much longer.”
Several department heads were present to answer questions regarding their budgets.
The committee approved to forward the funding requests to the full County Commission to consider later.
They include the Agriculture Extension Office, Election Administration, Register of Deeds, Assessor of Property, Trustee, County Clerk, Veteran Services, Probation Services, Community Re-entry Program, Emergency Management Agency, Consolidated Communication, and Soil Conservation.