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Budget Committee to make recommendation on school system’s proposed $64M budget

Washington County Budget Committee members were expected to reconvene Tuesday, June 19, to make a recommendation on the proposed $64 million budget for the county school system.
The meeting held last week was recessed to provide time for members to consider means to address the projected $4.2 million shortfall.
Director of Schools Ron Dykes included unfunded mandates and a loss of sales tax revenue, federal jobs money, and interest earned in a list of factors resulting in the deficit.
“If we don’t make one personnel change or one program change, we will still be in the hole because of inflation,” Dykes said.
The original estimate of a $600,000 loss in BEP funds may now be only a little more than $500,000. The final estimate for the BEP funds will be received in July and is based on enrollment. Enrollment as of June 7 was 9,092 students.
Commissioner Joe Grandy asked about the revenue in the proposed 2012-2013 budget.
“It doesn’t seem like a significant change in the revenue stream, not multimillion dollars worth,” he said.
Dykes said the figures can be deceiving when you go to the expense side and see the 2.5 percent required salary increase. In addition, Dykes said all school system employees receive an annual step increase based on certification, licensure and experience.
Among the new items included in the proposed budget are 25 instructional assistants at a total cost of $500,000.
Commissioner Ethan Flynn asked if the system has received a savings from the retirement of (higher-paid) teachers with more years of experience.
Often it’s a tradeoff rather than a savings, according to Dykes.
“We want the best person for the job, and the increased accountability in the classroom makes getting the most qualified person even more important,” he said.
A discussion regarding the age of the 102 buses currently on the road compared to the 15-to-17-year use limit had everyone in agreement that the replacement of buses will be an ongoing cost.
“I think we need to acknowledge that $600,000 for buses is recurring,” Mayor Dan Eldridge said. “I don’t see how we’re going to be able to spend less in the coming years.”
Grandy asked if that $600,000 is actually a recurring cost of $1 million when Johnson City’s share is included, and Eldridge agreed.
County Attorney John Rambo said his initial research indicates capital outlay notes must be shared, but the law is silent on capital paid upfront.
“If you don’t issue debt, you don’t have to share,” he said, adding he will continue to research whether there are exceptions that are not covered.
Rambo said there would be no benefit to paying capital expenditures from the schools general fund because that money has already been shared. The advantage would come from making the purchases with dollars from the county general fund.
Commissioner Mitch Meredith thought it was important for the Budget Committee to understand where the costs are coming from in the schools budget and what increases have been proposed.
“If you don’t get $64 million, you’re not going to stop buying textbooks or buses,” he said to Dykes.