Carter County Board of Education continues to slash school budget

John Thompson • Apr 19, 2012 at 10:04 AM

ELIZABETHTON — Although the Carter County Board of Education has found some additional ways to cut next year’s budget, some of the cuts are so painful several board members and Director Shirley Ellis would prefer to ask the County Commission for an increase of more than $336,000 next year.

The second round of budget cutting for the school system’s budget for 2011-12 was held in a Wednesday afternoon workshop, with County Finance Director Ingrid Deloach presenting a menu of distasteful options for the board members to choose.

The board has been forced into budget-cutting mode because of two main budget busters. The first is the revenue impact caused by a decline of about 100 students in its average daily membership and an increase in students in the Elizabethton City School System. The second is a partially unfunded mandate from the state to give teachers a 2.5 percent pay raise next year.

During the first round of budget cuts, Deloach told board members the school system will have a decline in revenue of around $336,000 next yeat. The loss is in two areas. The decline in student average daily membership means the state will cut its Basic Education Program funding by about $236,000. Local property tax revenue also will decline by about $100,000 because the split between county students and city students has declined by about 1 percent.

In addition to taking in less money, the school system will have a lot more expenses, Deloach said. The biggest comes in the teacher pay increase. The state will fund a portion of the mandate, which is the minimum level of teacher pay. Because the county has higher levels of pay because of its step plan, those levels of pay for teachers with more experience and advanced degrees will be paid by the county. That will amount to an additional $714,400, Delaoch said.

Additional increases Deloach is anticipating include a 10 percent rise in health insurance costs, amounting to $395,000. Other increases will bring the system’s total increased costs to $1,106,511.65.

During the first round of budget cuts last week, Deloach recommended such things as cutting the Board Member and Central Capital Outlay Fund by $100,000; cutting the purchase of a school bus at a cost of $100,000; and eliminating some teaching positions through attrition.

Her long list of cuts amounted to a savings of $745,809. That left the board with the need to find $750,000 in cuts or new revenue.

One of the new cuts is relatively painless. The school system could decide not to make the annual purchase of new textbooks this year at a savings of $264,000. This is not as drastic as it sounds, officials say. Supervisor Carol Whaley said the textbooks that are available have not yet caught up with the new common core curriculum. Waiting a year might mean textbooks that better fit the new curriculum.

Another cut might be avoided by a decision by the state to continue funding the Family Resource Center, providing an additional $29,611.65 that Deloach had projected as lost.

The other options Deloach presented were certainly painful cuts. These included cutting music and art programs at all elementary schools, which would save $436,000; cutting instructional assistants, which would save $594,000; or cut high school assistant principals, which would save $150,000.

All of these would result in job loss. The elimination of the instructional aides would mean the loss of 33 positions.

Rather than choosing any of those measures, Ellis turned to the board members and said “I recommend you go to the County Commission and request an increase.”

She said the increase should also include a 2.5 percent pay increase for the “paraprofessional” non-teaching employees, whom she said had not received a raise when the teachers received their latest pay increases.

Board member Don Julian agreed with Ellis. He said the school system has made great strides in the past several years “and I don’t want to go back in time. That would set us back 10 years.”

The meeting ended with a discussion on how the system is reaching into the future with virtual classrooms in which Mandarin Chinese and college-level math courses are now offered. Much of the advances have been made possible through the largess of the Niswonger Foundation.

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