School board set to approve budget with 2 percent employee pay raise

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated May 17, 2017 at 10:02 PM

ERWIN — The Unicoi County Board of Education wrapped up a special work session Wednesday with an agreement to move forward with a worst-case scenario budget that uses $680,000 in reserve funds to put a new roof on the high school and give an across-the-board 2 percent pay raise to employees.

Faced with a June 1 deadline to submit the budget to the county, the board has scheduled a specially called meeting to approve the budget proposal for Tuesday, May 30.

Director of Schools John English said the budget has been drafted without the inclusion of a still unknown amount of local sales taxes earmarked for schools that will reduce the amount of reserves needed to balance the budget. The budget proposal also does not include approximately $500,000 in Basic Education Plan funding that was cut by the state but may yet be restored.

“All the conversations we have heard is that (BEP funding) will come back,” English said, referring to state legislators’ ongoing work to restore the education dollars.

English said that by June 30, when the county expects to have a projection of its 2017-18 sales tax revenues and a penny-value on next year’s property taxes, the dip into system’s reserves could be reduced to somewhere between $400,000 and $600,000, and that all hopes are that the BEP funding will be restored.

With so many unknowns figuring into the budget, the board also agreed on Wednesday to delay until after July 1 any decision on how to handle a 7 percent increase in the cost of health insurance for employees.

Dianna Cousins, chief financial officer for the school system, presented the board with several options to consider in implementing what has been described by English and members of the board as a major shift in how the school system subsidizes employee insurance premiums.

Currently the systems pays an across the board $717 subsidy that reduces employee state pool insurance premiums for single health coverage to zero and a 45 percent subsidy for family coverage at a total $2.3 million cost to the system.

Options discussed Wednesday included across-the-board premium subsidies ranging ranging from 5 to 30 percent and a variety of coverage options that could, in some cases, reduce family coverage by several hundred dollars per month while increasing single coverage premiums by more than $100 a month.

Board Vice Chairman Steven Willis cautioned that significantly reducing family coverage premiums while significantly increasing single coverage premiums could “backfire” and result in a shift to family insurance at greater cost to the school system. Board member Glenn Fisher said he was certain the board shared his desire not to shift the insurance burden to any group of employees.

Cousins said many of the employees consider the current insurance offerings an incentive to stay with the system and English expressed fear that too much insurance burden could open a floodgate for employees to leave.

English said the many unknown budget variables make the insurance decision even more difficult and recommended the board continue to study the options.

Board Chairman Tyler Engle concluded by saying the school system has always and will continue to provide employees with the the best benefit package it can.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.




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