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Washington County school budget stands $3.8 million in red

Gary B. Gray • Jul 16, 2014 at 4:32 PM

Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes pulled a chair up to the large table where Budget Committee members sat waiting for word on the school system’s 2015 fiscal forecast.

He scooted himself closer and moved aside a box of Kleenex.

“Well, that may be very appropriate,” he remarked about the obvious correlation.

A first draft of the schools’ 2015 financial plan show it is nearly $3.8 million out of balance. With total revenues estimated to come in nearly $2.3 million below the current fiscal year, Dykes still is championing a roughly $64 million budget.

“The school system has lost about 60 students, and that’s going to mean a $279,000 drop in BEP funding,” Dykes said. “More than $376,000 in one-time funding for technology is gone. More than $1 million was used to balance our fund balance and about $960,000 in bond proceeds will not be coming in.”

On the expense side, nearly $1.3 million for certified and staff raises must be found.

County Mayor Dan Eldridge asked Dykes and Director of Finance Beverly Thomas to return to the committee once the school system had closed out its books for this fiscal year so that a more precise look at the numbers could be had.

“We always work it out, and we will,” Eldridge said. “We are in this -- I call it, a new world of flat revenue. We’d have to increase our property taxes more than 150 percent the rate of inflation to give our teachers a 2-percent raise each year. We’re going to have to get out of this box we’re in.”

Also, new items on the wish, or want list, include a grant writer position, two Race to the Top positions that are no longer funded, a formative assessment program, two positions in the technology department, four intervention positions, a maintenance position and three vehicles, which combined adds additional $702,000 in expenses.

“Washington County Schools pulled in $1.4 million in grants this year,” Dykes said about why that position was important. “We also want to maintain these other positions to help keep teachers up on new state standards. We are held accountable for that. The Race to the Top positions were fully funded the last four years, but that’s gone.”

Dykes said one of the issues this year is that TCAP testing is “a little out of alignment” with what is being taught, making the concept “a little more gnarly.” He also expressed his desire to begin buying new vehicles (other than school buses.)

Eldridge also said that if no meaningful growth occurs in the tax base it could mean a weakening of the county’s bonding credibility and a deterrent to future school capital projects.

Finally, Dykes suggested both the Johnson City and county school boards join together with the private sector to help find solutions, to which Eldridge wholeheartedly agreed.

“I think we need to be looking 10 years out," Dykes said.

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