Director of Schools Mark Willoughby and members of the Board of Education Thursday night pleaded their case with the county budget committee to include funding for several new positions, which they say are needed in the school system to meet student needs, even if it means a seventeen cent tax increase.
In its proposed tentative budget for the 2011-12 school year, the Board of Education is asking for five new teaching positions (total funds needed $225,000); two new assistant soccer coaches (total funds needed $5,570); one new site coordinator support staff position at DCHS (total funds needed $33,580); a new special education teacher at DCHS (total funds needed $45,000); three new assistant principal positions with benefits (total funds needed $229,100); and adding funding back to the general fund for three teaching positions and an educational assistant, which for the last two years have been paid for with federal stimulus or American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds that have now been exhausted (total funds needed $150,000)
The proposed school budget includes a 3.2% pay raise for support staff or non-certified personnel and a 1.6% local increase to match the state's 1.6% pay hike for certified personnel (teachers). Total funds needed $210,000.
Also included in the spending plan are requests for the following increases:
Textbook adoption (Math)- $40,000
Updated hardware/software Accounting Department- $40,000
Minimal increase in utility costs- $6,000
Increase in maintenance of plant supplies- $23,000
Increase in fuel costs: $124,000
Increase in capital outlay- $250,000 (mostly for DCHS science lab upgrades)
Except for the pay raises, County Mayor Mike Foster has asked Willoughby and the school board to make cuts in the proposed school budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
During the meeting Thursday, Director of Schools Willoughby explained why the school system needs the new positions. "A new fifth grade position is needed at Northside Elementary School because of the numbers. We've had an increase in the enrollment there and that is why we need that position," said Willoughby.
Another physical education teacher is also needed at Northside Elementary, according to Willoughby, in order to create more planning time for teachers there. "The P.E. position is needed in order to give teachers enough planning time, so they can have a planning time every day," said Willoughby.
"We also need an additional math teacher at the high school," added Willoughby. " We talked about that two or three years ago with the American Diploma Project, Tennessee Diploma Project where all the students were going to be required to have four math classes, where they had previously been required to have three math classes. Its got to the place now where we need to add that math teacher," said Willoughby.
Joined at the budget meeting by DCHS band director Jonathan Wright and at least two band parents in a show of support, Director Willoughby asked for the creation of an assistant band teacher position. "We have a real good band program now and the numbers of children taking band are going up. But our students at the west school and middle school do not have the opportunity to be part of the band like they should, especially at the west school. In order to grow a good high school band program, you need the feeder schools in there and that's the reason we have this position in there," said Willoughby.
The soccer program could also use some extra help, according to Director Willoughby. "That's something that comes up year in and year out. We're asking for one assistant soccer coach for the boys and one for the girls," he said.
In order to meet the growing need for on-line classes, Willoughby said a site coordinator position should be added at DCHS. " We like many other schools are going to distant learning, on-line classes (with teachers at other schools). That person would not have to be certified. He or she would keep everything going as far as on-line, doing communication with other schools, whether it be another high school program, Motlow or other places. That person would also keep in contact with parents," said Willoughby.
"The other person we need is a special education teacher at the high school in order to meet the needs, under the special ed federal program. We have $45,000 as a budget item there for that," said Willoughby.
For the last two years, the school system has used federal stimulus funds to pay the salaries of three teaching positions and an educational assistant, which were formerly funded in the regular school general purpose fund budget. Since those federal funds have now been depleted, Willoughby told the budget committee that the school system has added those positions back into the general fund. "These positions are returning to GP (general purpose fund) due to ending of stimulus funding. We used that money for that amount of time (two years) to relieve the general purpose budget, to save the county money," he said.
County Mayor Foster said he has learned that the state may cover the costs of those positions previously funded by federal stimulus dollars. "The state used over $170-million in federal ARRA (federal stimulus) money last year to help fund the BEP formula for K-12. After two years of availability, those (ARRA) funds went away. The state budget this year will replace those dollars and include additional funds to cover student enrollment growth and inflationary factors built into the BEP formula. So hopefully, there is money in the BEP formula this year to cover those four ARRA jobs that you lost," said Foster.
As for the request to add three new assistant principals (one at each DeKalb West, Northside Elementary, and Smithville Elementary School), Willoughby said new state and or federal teacher evaluation requirements make these extra positions necessary to help with the additional workload. "A lot of other schools our size already have assistant principals, and have had them for some time. The tenure law has changed and the evaluation process has changed. This is a mandate and we'll have to do these extra observations," said Willoughby.
Dr Gayle Redmon, principal at Northside Elementary and Dr. Bill Tanner, principal at Smithville Elementary, also spoke in support of adding assistant principals during the budget meeting Thursday night. According to Dr. Redmon, the requirement for evaluating certified licensed teachers is going from two evaluations in ten years to four evaluations every school year. For apprentice teachers who do not yet have a professional license, they are subject to six evaluations in one school year.
Willoughby added that certified staff in the central office will also be called on to help with those evaluations. "All the certified people in our office are getting re-trained also to do observations and evaluations,"he said.
The proposed new school budget includes a request for $250,000 in extra capital outlay spending, something of which budget committee members have been concerned. Willoughy said that was included to cover the costs of renovating the science lab at DCHS, a project which has been underway since school closed in May and which is expected to be completed by the start of school next month. "When we started doing our science lab, we had no idea how much we were going to have to spend on that science lab so we put in $250,000. Now that we've gotten started on it and plan to come in (finish the project) right at the end of this month, I don't think it will be $250,000. I think we're going to come out a lot better than we expected on it," said Willoughby.
The general purpose budget for schools totals $20-million 146-thousand 303 consisting of local monies but mostly state funding. In order the make the proposed budget balance a total of $666,893 is needed from the Education Jobs Fund, which is federal one time (grant) monies to be spent for salaries/positions; an appropriation of $658,016 from the school system's allocation of Basic Education Program (BEP) reserves for equipment and capital outlay expenditures; and a seventeen cent increase in the local property tax rate.
In making his case for the seventeen cent tax hike Willoughby said the extra cost to taxpayers in most cases would be less than a cost of a soft drink each day. "For each penny that the tax is raised on a $100,000 piece of property, that person's tax goes up $2.50 per penny. For $150,000, it goes up $3.75 per penny, on $200,000 it increases $5.00 per penny. So on a $100,000 piece of property, that's 12 cents a day. On a $150,000 piece of property, its 17 cents per day. If we were asking for a 17 cent property tax increase, even for a person who owned a $300,000 piece of property, that's 34 cents per day. That's not what people spend on a coke cola per day. I think a majority of people, owning a $100,000 piece of property, could find 12 cents a day," he said.
Willoughby added that "I'm glad that we have a low property tax in DeKalb County but I think the people would be proud to see how we're using our property tax for the kids. We look at what's needed for our children," he added.
However Steve Bates, the county's financial advisor warned that if the school board continues to grow the system while projecting using fund balance (BEP reserves) to balance its budget each year, a much larger tax rate will be needed for schools in the future. "What are you going to do when you get ready to build a school and you've already used it (available funds)? Furthermore, look at your state retirement. Next year, you're going to see your state retirement contribution go way up. Its going to be that way statewide. The problem you have is that your budget is $2.1 million more than last year. You got ARRA (federal stimulus) money in 2010 and your budget went up $717,000 versus 2009. So the path you're on is unsustainable even at the seventeen cents you're asking for because you're going into cash (fund balance) by $1,336,000. Even if we (county) give you four extra pennies, you'll need another thirty one cents on top of that. And then you've got these things you'll have to address next year like state retirement and health care at the federal level. They've (federal government) already said we're going to have to start funding everybody (healthcare). Once you start taking that long view, what are you going to do? Where are we going? How are we going to get there"? asked Bates.
County Mayor Foster added that once the $666,893 Education Jobs Grant Fund is depleted after this year, any new positions added to the school system under this fund may have to be abolished because the county does not intend to fund them beyond this coming year. "This jobs money is one time monies to hire all these new people and next year there's no money," he said
Foster also echoed Bates' concerns about the future. "If you add the 17 cents, plus the $666,000 (to make up for the Education Jobs Fund next year) and the $1.3 million (fund balance) that would be an increase, based on property taxes, of 46% (to balance the school budget). That's unsustainable", said Foster
Willoughby said even though the school system has projected the use of BEP reserves to balance its budget, it may not be needed by year's end. "Its become a tradition to balance our budget out of reserves but we've been fortunate enough to get to the end of the year with our revenues having been more than expenditures. So that's worked out. It would be nice though if we had those reserves each year so they could build up," added Willoughby
Fifth District School Board member W.J. (Dub) Evins, III told WJLE that the school board would not have to be in the position of asking for a property tax increase if the county commission had not, in recent years, already cut the tax rate for schools and re-allocated it to other departments of county government
According to Evins, several years ago, about two thirds of the county property tax rate was allocated for schools and the sinking fund (local option sales tax fund) which is also for schools, was used only for capital outlay expenditures, the way, he said, it was meant to be. Today, Evins claims only about a third of the property tax rate goes to schools, and the county commission is using $1.5 million of the sinking fund for school operation plus over $500,000 for debt service. And while the tax rate for schools is decreasing, Evins said the tax rate for the county general fund has increased by twenty cents within the last three years, going from 55 cents to 75 cents.
Last August, in addition to funding schools the $2-million 127-thousand 365 generated by the 48 cent local property tax rate for schools, the county commission voted to transfer $1-million 540 thousand from local purpose tax fund (sinking/sales tax fund) to help operate schools for the year along with $580,534 to fund the school debt service for payment on the Northside Elementary School and roof at Smithville Elementary School. The state BEP allocation for schools this past year was budgeted to be $12-million 508-thousand dollars.
When the sales tax referendum was approved by the voters in May 2007 raising the local option sales tax rate in DeKalb County from 1.5% to 2.75%, Evins said the public was told by county officials that the extra money derived from the increase would go to schools. And while the school system does receive more sales tax funds, the property tax rate for schools has been cut by an equal amount, essentially putting schools right back where they were. "The sales tax referendum was passed with the understanding that the money was going to schools, but an equal or greater amount of money was taken away from the schools by reducing our property tax rate sixteen and a half cents and debt service by two cents, which makes eighteen and a half cents."
County Mayor Foster insists that before the sales tax referendum was passed it was explained to the public that property tax payers would be getting an overall 19 or 20 cent property tax break, if the referendum were approved " That was the intent. It was the design that the sales tax would take the place of part of the property tax rate for schools. We made that clear in the (public) meetings and when it (referendum) was voted on and that's exactly what has been done.," said Foster.
During the meeting Thursday night, County Mayor Foster asked the school board to revise its proposed budget for this year and make cuts where possible, except for the pay raises, which the county intends to fund.
The school board will meet in a workshop to consider making those cuts Monday night, July 11 at 6:00 p.m. followed by a special meeting at 8:00 p.m. to formally adopt the revisions in the proposed school budget.
The county budget committee will meet again to review other aspects of the county budget Monday night, July 11 at 6:00 p.m.
The county's property tax rate is currently $1.46 per $100 of assessed value. The new certified tax rate, as established by the state after reappraisal, is expected to be $1.52. Even though the certified rate is higher than the current rate, it is supposed to generate to the county about the same amount of total local revenue, because of the overall drop in assessments countywide since the last reappraisal.
Still, a tax increase appears to be coming, even with the new certified rate. Steve Bates, the county's financial advisor, told the budget committee Thursday night that a five cent tax hike would be needed to fund the school system's pay raises and the county general fund needs more revenue as well.
While no vote has been taken by the budget committee, based on their discussions, the new tax rate could be as much as $1.57 to $1.60, if adopted by the budget committee and the county commission.
Foster said all budgets must be ready for passage by no later than next Friday, July 15 so that the county commission can get them adopted by early to mid August.