ELIZABETHTON — Carter County Director of Schools Kevin Ward kept his promise to deliver a budget for the school system for the next fiscal year that is balanced without an increase in property taxes.
Ward presented the school department’s proposed 2013-14 budget to the Budget Committee of the Carter County Commission on Tuesday evening. It includes replacing $425,000 in funds that were one-time cuts in this year’s budget.
The previous cuts that must be restored in the new budget include $300,000 for the purchase of textbooks. Ward deemed it wise to wait a year to purchase textbooks this year because the state was undergoing a change in curriculum and new textbooks were not yet available for the new curriculum. Now it is important to put the textbook money back in the budget.
Other big cuts this year that must be restored include $75,000 for school libraries; $19,000 for high school bands; and several smaller line items.
Making Ward’s balancing act harder was his need to cover $625,000 in other shortages. These include a projected increase of $300,000 in medical insurance and making up a projected loss of $170,000 in local tax money as a result of the declining enrollment in county schools in comparison with the Elizabethton City School System. The enrollment decline will also result in a decline in state Basic Education Program funding of $42,000. There is also a new mowing contract which will cost $75,000.
Despite the $1,050,000 increase in the budget over this year, Ward was able to make enough cuts to bring the budget into balance.
The largest and most controversial cut is to close Range Elementary School, which is the smallest elementary school in the system. Ward figures the cut will save the system $486,502 per year.
The cuts will also include seven positions for a savings of $350,000 and cuts to substitutes for another $45,000.
Another big cut will be $100,000 in school bus purchases and a cut of $20,000 in gas and transportation expenditures.
In response to a question from Budget Committee member Nancy Brown, Ward said there were enough retirements taking place in the system this year to allow for all of the teachers at Range to have a new position in the system next year.
Ward said there would be no pay raises next year except for step raises and raises for obtaining a higher academic degree.
Under the plan, the county school’s share of the property tax rate should remain at slightly more than 98 cents per $100 of assessed value.
The Budget Committee is also facing no pressure from the Highway Department. Highway Superintendent Jack Perkins is not asking for an increase in property taxes to support his operations next year. He did ask for a pay raise for his employees if the funds are available.
Under Perkin’s proposal, the Highway Department’s share of the county property tax rate would remain at 13 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Finance Director Ingrid Deloach once again spoke out for the need to increase funding for the undesignated fund balance, which is expected to decline to $4.9 million by the end of this fiscal year. She said total expenditures from debt service next year will be $3.2 million, with revenues coming in at only $1.1 million. That means an additional $2.1 million will be taken from the fund balance if funding for debt service is not increased.