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Story published: 04-24-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Board of Ed fails to balance budget, expects $3.5M deficit, $22M in facilities needs

By Karen Sells
Assistant Editor

Despite projections of flat revenue in the upcoming fiscal year, Board of Education members voted to submit a $900,000 reimbursement request for capital expenditures, a 2013-14 budget with a $3.5 million deficit and a list of $22 million in facilities needs.

“The Budget Committee made it very clear to expect no increase in local funds,” Director of Schools Ron Dykes said during the called BOE meeting on April 15.

Finance Committee Chair David Hammond said he hates voting on a budget that’s out of balance, but doesn’t know where additional cuts could be made.

The board is projecting a revenue decrease of approximately $2.4 million from lower collections in sales and property taxes, and the money from the schools fund balance that had to be used to balance the 2012-13 budget.

Expenditure increases of almost $1 million leave the budget with a deficit of $3.5 million. “This is where we stand, a no-frills budget that covers the status quo,” Dykes said.

Receiving a reimbursement for unexpected capital projects and bus purchases during the current fiscal year would be helpful, according to Dykes.

“Right now we’re looking at finishing the year $204,000 above the state-mandated 3 percent (that must be kept) in fund balance reserves,” he said.

BOE members spent almost $900,000 to replace the roof at Fall Branch Elementary and the chiller at Boones Creek Elementary, and purchase nine school buses.

The Budget Committee directed the schools to use their own fund balance when they made an earlier request for reimbursement for the building repairs.

Dykes reminded board members the county commission fulfilled its agreement to borrow $1.85 million for the purchase of three years’ worth of school buses.

“Timing and miscommunication resulted in our buying the ones during this fiscal year,” he said.

Board member Jack Leonard asked if it is wise to submit the facilities needs list alongside an out of balance budget and a reimbursement request, predicting the combination would not be well-received.

“It’s because we got called on it when we went in with a request for the roof, and (commissioners) asked why it wasn’t in our budget. We want to lay it out after what we took last year,” said Facilities Chair Chad Williams.

Board members unanimously approved recommendations from the Facilities Committee, which met prior to the budget work session.

Technology upgrades throughout the system and the water line replacement at David Crockett High School were moved to the high priority category on the Five-Year Facilities Needs list.

Dykes said the $376,000 expected from the state for technology will not cover all the needs. “The state money will help update bandwidth, speed and infrastructure, but we are going to have an (additional) annual outlay of $250,000,” he said.

Updated hardware and software will be needed to comply with new guidelines on curriculum delivery, which require testing be administered on computers. Sulphur Springs, for example, does not currently have enough computers for the testing.

“I want the county commission to know we’re behind the eight ball on technology,” BOE member Bill Brinkley said.

Keith Ervin reminded members of the building needs. “Do we need to spend more money on technology than we do on doors and hardware at Gray?” he asked.

Brinkley said it is not a matter of one being more important, but rather, an effort to ensure all needs are included on the list for the commission.

Cost estimates for the water line replacement should be in within the next two weeks, according to Dykes.

Several comments regarding the county commission’s failure to fulfill its responsibility for funding the school system were made during the meeting. Members asked how the county commission can refuse to pay the $900,000 it owes the school system if it is able to find money for a county archive and renovation of the mayor’s office.

“I think something that is often overlooked is the inflationary factor, which is substantial,” Dykes said. “(Commissioners) remind us the amount we received has increased every year, but they aren’t considering this.”

Upon unanimous approval from the BOE, Dykes will present the reimbursement request, draft budget and facilities needs list during the May meeting of the Budget Committee.

Board members still have a decision to make regarding the distribution of state funds for the 1.5 percent annual pay increases, which are included in the draft. The most likely option is merit-based for certified staff only, Dykes said, with the other option being a one-time bonus spread across the board.