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Funds to help Johnson City schools with safety

June 21st, 2013 9:54 pm by Gary B. Gray

Funds to help Johnson City schools with safety

Johnson City Schools’ administrators, Board of Education members and others know the economy, state and federal mandates, the loss of grant funds and rising operating costs have put them in a pinch, not only during the configuration of the 2013-14 budget, but for the long haul, as well.

Superintendent of Schools Richard Bales handed out a list of prioritized cuts equaling about $944,000 on Thursday during a workshop comprised of city commissioners and school officials. The request was a humble one when you consider the system’s total projected budget is about $74.1 million, a $2.1 million increase over the current year.

But these are humbling times.

“At our last board meeting we laid out different scenarios and identified what we could cut,” Bales said. “Just looking at the way we’ve balanced our budget this year, we’ve taken $1 million from our fund balance and $300,000 from Race to the Top, which has helped fund academic coaches that’s going away. That’s $1.3 million, but we’re also facing the costs of online testing. Beyond that there’s the normal cost increases like health insurance and utilities.”  

After reviewing a list of six items that could be cut, commissioners agreed to set the maximum at $375,000, which they later voted to approve. The money will help pay for nearly $155,000 in school safety measures, including the retention of three positions the school system will be losing when the HEROES grant program is no longer funded.

This does not include funding for additional or existing school resource officers. The Johnson City Police Department will absorb the cost this coming year of two officers who will rotate their time between all elementary schools. 

Greg Wallace, Johnson City Schools’ HEROES program director, told commissioners and city staff earlier this month that no one was under any illusion it would be an ongoing grant.

“I do not know what our schools would do without these employees,” he said. “Three suicides have been directly averted under this program.”

On June 6, commissioners approved the police department’s submittal of an application for a COPS Hiring Program grant. If awarded, the grant would fund four additional school resource officers who would join the two on duty. The grant term for this program is three years.

Commissioners also agreed to pay for central office equipment and maintenance ($50,000), instructional equipment such as computers and projectors ($90,112) and to keep a part-time graduation coach and evaluation help ($72,000).

The school system will have to pull money from its insurance fund balance to pay for the Health Risk Assessment Program, priced at $125,000, and delay for now the purchase of $452,000 worth of social studies books that are required under new standards but yet not actually ready for receipt. 

Bales said school officials continue to pursue grants related to mental health to make up for the partial loss of workers from Frontier Health who were onboard as part of the HEROES grant. The majority of Frontier Health employees stationed at schools lose those jobs June 30. 

Still, the system is facing a $2 million cut for 2015.

“What is disturbing is I understand the depth of your needs go well beyond this budget,” said Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin, a former Board of Education member.

City Manager Pete Peterson echoed that sentiment, describing the current economy as “a one-cylinder threshing machine.”

For a related story, click here.

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