By MARINA WATERS
With a newly adjusted budget, the Washington County Board of Education is barreling through budget season.
Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton and Finance Director Brad Hale presented the BOE’s budget to the Washington County Commission’s Budget Committee on Friday June 9. The committee sent the budget on to Finance Director Mitch Meredith to put into resolution-form before they vote on the budget once again at their upcoming Wednesday June 14 meeting.
The BOE had previously presented a $1.44 million out-of-balance budget to the committee, but this time, in an effort to decrease the amount of reserve dollars used for the board’s budget each year, Hale and Halliburton came equipped with a budget that will use $1.29 million from the budget’s fund balance reserves.
Hale said the budget saw $191,000 in reductions. He also said new revenue estimates closed some of the gap on the budget and helped to reduce the allotted diesel fuel expense fund (saving $75,000), the electricity fund (saving $37,000), after school program salaries due to overestimation with the 2-percent raise for all school employees (saving $34,000) and an adjusted audit fee also saved the BOE $45,000.
The budget still included a two-percent raise for all school employees, but it also saw some cuts; Halliburton said 10 teachers (five retirements or resignations and five non-renewals) and eight to nine instructional aides’ positions would not be refilled.
“When you lose 800 students over a six-year period, you have to reduce your staff,” Halliburton said at the board’s June 8 budget meeting. “There is not a need for the amount of instructional aides.”
Halliburton also said it was up to school principals to make contract renewal decisions.
“It’s my job as director to support the principals in those decisions because, after all, we’re not in there running their school,” Halliburton said. “We had some employees that were missing as much as 35 days a school year. And given that you have the summer off, two weeks off for Christmas break and then there’s spring break and fall break — we have to have employees that are actually going to be on the job. As director, I will always support my principals in these decisions.”
During the BOE’s June 8 budget meeting, board member Mary Beth Dellinger said she’s seen push back from teachers in the community when it comes to a reduced number of instructional aides.
“I’ve had teachers call me upset about losing instructional assistants. I’ve asked the teachers which personnel they deem more valuable and they overwhelmingly responded they wanted instructional assistants over academic coaches,” Dellinger said at the June 8 meeting. “These academic coaches they currently have, they feel, are sufficient.”
Originally, the budget called for four academic coaches whose positions are designed to improve student academic skill and performance. At a previous budget meeting, the board voted to reduce that down to two academic coaches. The goal was to have an academic coach at each school, and with two added academic coaches and with some schools sharing academic coaches, each school will have access to an academic coach according to the presented budget.
“(By not adding two academic coaches) you’re going to be telling four schools, ‘We don’t value you and we’re not going to put at least a part-time academic coach in your school. But all these other schools are going to have an academic coach.’ What are you going to tell parents out in the community?” board member and BOE Chairman Jack Leonard said. “And most of these schools are in my district. It’s hard for me to tell people in Lamar and at South Central that you can’t have an academic coach. But Gray, Boones Creek and all them can. We’ve got to pull up our scores on our end of the county just like they do on the other side.”
In light of staff reductions and budget adjustments, Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge commended the board, Hale and Halliburton on the decisions they’ve made throughout the budget season.
“To me, you’re doing what you need to do. You’re taking care of your staff and you are emphasizing the priorities that are going to improve the outcomes of the school system,” Eldridge said.
The next budget committee meeting will be held on Wednesday June 14, at 9 a.m.