Looking ahead to what is expected to be a tough financial year, the Washington County Board of Education took its first look Tuesday at next year’s budget, which is more than $4 million out of balance.
After much discussion during the called meeting, the board unanimously voted to approve the more than $63 million budget, which will now be presented to the Washington County Education Committee.
“This is a budget of need. It’s almost a status quo budget,” Director of Schools Ron Dykes said.
One of the highest expenditures comes in the form of a 2.5 percent increase for certified salaries at a cost of $884,692.
A 2.5 percent salary increase for support staff at a cost of $221,714 also was approved.
The budget’s main points of discussion came from two additions to the list of expenditures made by the board.
The first was the addition of 25 instructional assistants to the system with a salary of about $20,000, totaling $500,000 in added expenditures.
The initial recommendation was for 10 instructional assistants to be added to classrooms, but board member Phillip McLain motioned to change the number from 10 to 25.
“I don’t think 10 is enough to adequately support our teachers in this system with all that they are burdened with, especially the last two years,” he said.
The motion was unanimously approved.
Currently, the system has about 200 instructional assistants, and Dykes said there’s a desperate need for more.
The other major point of discussion came from board member Todd Ganger’s motion to add two full-time and four part-time positions to the system’s grounds maintenance department at a total cost of about $70,800.
Those maintenance workers would be responsible for upkeep of the system’s ball fields, which are often used to host major sports tournaments during the summer months, bringing in money for the county.
Dykes said the system pulls in some revenue from the dollars spent during those tournaments, but the system is at a point where they cannot sustain keeping those fields up.
Without those fields, county schools would no longer be able to host the tournaments, including ones scheduled for this summer.
“Everything is about economic development. This world rolls on economic development. The key ingredient for economic development is education. That’s going to be the difference, not low taxes,” Dykes said.
The motion drew some opposition from several board members.
“We’re in the business of education. ... They’re not going to come in and do anything to us statewide or nationally if our ball fields are not kept lined and perfect, but if we don’t keep our education up and meet these core standards and meet the requirements the state has, they will come in here and take us over and tell us how to run our schools,” board member Jack Leonard said.
If the motion didn’t pass, Dykes said the tournaments that are already scheduled would have to be canceled.
“If you want to maintain what we have regarding the school usage, we can do it with what we have right now, but if you want to stay in the business of tournament offerings, it’s going to take six more personnel,” Dykes said.
The motion passed with board members David Hammond, Mary Lo Silvers, Chad Williams and McLain voting in favor. Board members William Brinkley, Keith Ervin and Leonard voted no.
A motion made by Ervin to add $75,000 to the system’s common core staff development to the budget failed to pass in a 6-2 vote, with Brinkley, Ganger, Hammond, Leonard, Silvers and Williams voting no. McLain and Ervin voted in favor of the motion.
Last year, the board voted unanimously to use a portion of its fund balance to fund a $1.7 million budget deficit with the understanding the Washington County Commission would assist with this year’s deficit.
Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge, who was present at Tuesday’s meeting, was asked if the commission would stand behind their promise to provide funding of those recurring needs represented by that $1.7 million.
“If you’ll recall the deal was the County Commission would cover the recurring costs within however much the recurring cost was,” he answered.
With the replacement of those funds, the budget will be about $2.5 million in the red.
Dykes is expected to present the budget to the County Commission’s Education Committee next week.