The DeKalb County Board of Education, facing a May 15th deadline to present a tentative school budget to the county commission's budget committee, is looking for ways to balance it's proposed spending plan for the upcoming school year without eliminating positions.
Members of the board met in a workshop Tuesday night to discuss the options.
Projected revenues in the new budget are estimated to be $17-million 074-thousand 322. Anticipated expenditures are expected to be $17-million 822-thousand 740. That's a shortfall of $748-thousand 418. A total of $640-thousand 500 in BEP reserves can be programmed into the budget, but that still leaves the budget short by $108,000.
In order the balance the budget, the school board could eliminate two or three positions in the system, seek a property tax increase, or use the school system's allocation of federal stimulus money to temporarily fund local positions.
Director Mark Willoughby says the option to use the stimulus money seems to be the best under the circumstances. "The options are to do away with some positions, which we do not want to do. All employees are doing a good job and we want to keep them. We are not planning on eliminating any positions. We feel like all our positions are very needed. The federal stimulus money is one place where we may be able to come up with $108,000 but that is something that will have to be voted on by the board."
"We're waiting to see what our final budget is going to be from the state. Should we use the stimulus money the way that's been explained to us, we would have to say that we were going to use that (money) because of a shortfall in the budget. We would have to say we were going to eliminate certain positions and then we would fund those positions with the stimulus money. That would have to be voted on by the board. That is one of the options we have. In talking with several of the Upper Cumberland Directors, I think that's something that may be pretty common that's going to be used this time."
Director Willoughby says he would have preferred to use the stimulus money for other needs. "The stimulus money is there to enhance the education program that school systems across the state already have. We were hoping to use all that money to purchase things such as computers and software. We have a lot of computers which are outdated. We have a lot of software we need to upgrade. There are some computers which are just not working and need to be replaced. We might have used that money to place another elementary teacher or two to help out with some special needs children. That was the first intentions, but as the economy continued it's downturn, the federal government made it so we could use it to keep from cutting people out of jobs."
Willoughby says plans are to make cuts where possible in the budget without seeking a property tax increase. "We don't have much more to eliminate. We figured fuel costs pretty high last year because fuel was going up like crazy, and that's one of the things we've cut down a pretty good amount this time. There's different things in the budget (we've cut), a thousand dollars here, a thousand dollars there. I wouldn't say it's a pretty budget but we're trying to make it so it won't affect the taxpayers without any problem. We don't plan on asking for a tax increase at this time. Of course that's going to be the board's decision. That's not my decision. That's not something we want to do right now during these economic times. Now is not a good time to be putting more burden on the taxpayers."
The proposed budget includes no local pay raises for personnel other than step increases. Those who have already topped out on the pay scale would not get a pay raise in this budget.
Director Willoughby says the spending plan does include a small increase to help match employee's health care benefits." We're looking at no more than a one percent increase in local spending. That's almost inconceivable with the rate of inflation. We would love to possibly give a one or two percent increase to our employees on what we pay for their insurance. Keep in mind that we pay 18% of teacher's insurance so we'd like to add one or two percent more to that. For non-certified employees, we pay 50% of their insurance and we'd love to pay one or two percent more for that also."
School board members who attended Tuesday night's workshop were Chairman Charles Robinson, John David Foutch, Joan Draper, and Bruce Parsley.
Robinson said another workshop will be held to crunch the budget numbers again before the next school board meeting on Thursday, May 14th to formally act on the tentative budget. Amendments can be made to the proposed budget up until final passage by the county commission this summer.