School Board budget pic

School Board Members Chris Guess, from left, Chair CleiJo Walker, Lance Williams and Christine Hopkins review budget information Monday

The School Board was on the verge Monday of adding pay raises into its budget that has been rejected three times by the Finance Committee, but the move failed in a 4-2 vote.

Board Members Chris Guess and Lance Williams cited the budget was already leaning toward a deficit before the pay raises were added in, and including them would put the system in a further financial predicament.

They voted against the pay raise move, and Board Members Sara Liechty, Linda Jones, Chair CleiJo Walker and Christine Hopkins later sided with them in regard to their wishes to address a growing concern about depleting reserve funds and potentially not being able to meet payroll needs in the future.

The board unanimously settled on the most recent version that had $457,547 in cutbacks that included:

▪ A savings of $289,047 that calls for no percentage raise for certified or support personnel and no increase for bus contractors. It does include degree advancements for certified teachers and step raises earned for certified and support employees.

▪ Reducing software purchases totaling $75,000.

▪ Cutting $43,500 in contracted services.

▪ Reducing a bus-garage project by $50,000.

Williams also motioned to remove $200,000 for unplanned positions, cut $15,000 in garage supplies, and reduce a bus-garage project by a total of $100,000 instead of $50,000.

The additional changes set the overall total reductions at $722,547.

The budget still totals $46.7 million, but the additional cutbacks were targeted at fulfilling a mandate from the Finance Committee to cut the budget further.

Commissioner David Eldridge, a Finance Committee member, attended Monday’s School Board meeting.

He said the school system is facing a trend where state appropriations have become stagnant and fund only 68 percent of the system’s operations. He added that the county has been forced to pick up more of the difference.

Eldridge said the county is already facing a 24-cent property tax increase, and if the school system isn’t able to gain a handle on the difference in its budget, the figure could involve a total of 60 cents in property tax increases incrementally over several years if something is not done to reduce the financial gap.

At present, the taxes on a $100,000 home are $667.50. A 24-cent hike would add $62.57 to the annual bill, setting the total at $730.17. Another 60-cent tax increase would up the annual bill to $877.50, an additional $147.33.

Williams said that having a pay increase, even with the cutbacks, still leads to great concern about where the school system’s reserve funds will be in the future.

The commission will review the county’s budget at 7 p.m. on Monday at the Courthouse and will consider the school segment.

If the commission doesn’t approve the school budget on Monday, it will go back to the School Board for a 10-day period to be further revised. If the commission downs it later, funding will remain at last year’s levels.

County Mayor David Alexander said if the budget issues aren’t resolved by Aug. 31, the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury will get involved and set the budget. He added that it’s unclear exactly how the state would handle the matter.

A special budget workshop has been set for July 23 at 6 p.m. in the Rescue Squad room in the Franklin County Annex Building. School Board members said they will be attending the event.

Guess said it will take several years and a series of approaches to adjust the budget to handle the reserve-fund deficit.

Eldridge said it will take the School Board, the Finance Committee and the County Commission working together to deal with the worst financial situation he’s witnessed in the dozen years he’s served as a commissioner.