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Nathan Baker

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Schools hope city helps cut $4.8M gap

March 19th, 2014 9:04 pm by Nathan Baker

Schools hope city helps cut $4.8M gap

Johnson City school officials hope the bleak budget they bring before the City Commission in the coming months will accurately portray the dire situation the district is facing to the city leaders holding the purse strings.

Nearly $2 million worth of expiring grants and other outside funding sources, combined with hundreds of thousands of unfunded mandates, have left the school system scratching to find more than $4.8 million in new revenues.

“We need additional funds or we’re going to have to make cuts that will affect the students,” Superintendent Richard Bales said during a special budget meeting Wednesday.

Part of the district’s unfavorable forecast comes from its heavy use of reserve funds in the past years to make ends meet.

After using $875,304 from reserves in fiscal year 2013, and planning to use nearly $1.2 million more this year, the district could be left with $3.1 million in the next budget cycle, more than half of which must remain in reserves as mandated by the state.

“We’ve been saying that there would come a year when we would not have enough left to make up the difference,” City Board of Education Chair Kathy Hall said. “I think we’ve finally reached that year.”

In the $60 million proposed budget is $1 million for salary increases, which, through the district’s step increase plan and a 1.5 percent cost-of-living raise equates to about a 2.5 percent overall raise for employees, Bales said.

The district is seeking approval from the state for a differentiated pay plan, which has been encouraged by State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Gov. Bill Haslam to fit in with their broader education reform plan.

Another $1 million comes from the purchase of new textbooks, of which $773,000 is for new math materials and $300,000 is for middle school social studies books taken out of last year’s budget.

More than a half-million dollars in new expenditures is recommended to keep on mentors, curriculum and academic coaches and instructors previously paid for through the state’s First to the Top grant program, which will expire this year.

Bales said the personnel provided for by the grant have been instrumental in helping Johnson City’s students reach the lofty academic goals the district has set over the years, and losing them could mean a reversal of students’ gains.

Under technology, $250,000 is still needed to prepare the schools to meet the requirements for the state’s new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers, or PARCC, testing, which is mostly taken online.

The new tests will replace the TCAPs, used for years to determine academic achievement in the state.

PARCC is the measuring function of Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards, a set of higher benchmarks that are designed to ready students for post-secondary education or careers.

The gathered school officials did not project the likelihood Johnson City will agree to cover the $4.8 million gap, but said the budget figures needed to be seen by city leaders to help them understand the district’s situation.

“We’ve made some significant cuts already,” Hall said. “I’m comfortable bringing this to the city to show them what our real needs are.”

In the past two years, Johnson City has increased its funding to the school district by more than 4 percent both years. Transportation, which is governed by the city, has seen about a $125,000 increase over those years, as well.

Johnson City Schools Director of Finance Pam Cox will likely take the budget proposal to the City Commission in mid-April.

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