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Finance committee passes Washington County schools 2018 budget

Zach Vance • Updated Jun 9, 2017 at 11:42 PM

It took three tries, but the Washington County Board of Education’s proposed 2018 budget finally won approval from the county’s budget panel.

While Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton and the board’s previous budget did earn praise during a May 18 presentation, County Mayor Dan Eldridge still wanted the board to reduce the amount of funding derived from the school’s reserve fund.

In a previous budget proposal, the school system allocated about $1.56 million to be pulled from the reserve fund; the latest proposal only pulls $1.29 million from the account.

Halliburton and the Board of Education found about $300,000 in savings to reduce next year’s hit to the reserve balance, and it proved enough to satisfy the Budget Committee’s request.

Among the items reduced from the previous budget proposal was a 2 percent savings from budgeted electricity costs, a reduction to diesel fuel expenses, a reduction in the system’s audit fee, and some savings from overestimated salary adjustments.

“We reduced our diesel fuel by $75,000. We had projected a 5 percent increase in electricity to run our schools and we did more investigative work and found out we really only needed to budget for a 3 percent increase,” Halliburton said. “We really spent a lot of time looking at each line item in this past year’s budget to determine where it was that we were overbalanced and perhaps could make some cuts. That’s part of that discovery.” 

The reserve balance is basically a savings account for emergencies, and the state requires each school system have a balance of at least $2 million. Washington County currently has about $5 million in its reserve fund.

The latest budget will now leave about $3.7 million in the reserve fund for next year, but Eldridge and Halliburton are hopeful that next year’s budget will not require any funding from the reserve account.

The school’s 2018 budget is currently balanced at $66.79 million and still includes a 2 percent employee pay raise and step raises.

The total new expense items now total $584,221 and $1.55 million decreased from the 2017 fiscal budget.

The new budget still includes cutting 10 teacher positions and 14 instructional assistants positions.

“I’m really pleased with what they’ve done. This is a big step for our school system toward getting their budget right-sized to reflect the declining enrollment and to reflect the lack of growth in our revenue,” Eldridge said.

Near the end of the meeting, Eldridge told the committee that once everything slows down and budgets are finalized, he wants to get both Johnson City and Washington County school officials together to discuss exactly how schools are funded.

“I continue to be made aware of people’s lack of understanding and misperceptions and it affects the community. You hear comments made, ‘Well the county is cheating the city.’ That’s not right, but a lot of that comes from a lack of understanding of where the money does come from (and) what it’s being used for,” Eldridge said.

“As a community if we’re going to operate two school systems, it’s important for us to begin to really understand, acknowledge and accept what the funding process really is, where the disparities really are and hopefully as a result of that, we can start to work on the real problems.”

While some still criticize the need for a new Boones Creek School due to such a tight budget, declining enrollment and diminishing revenue, Halliburton said student safety is a top justification for funding the capital project.

“All four of those (school) buildings are going to become a safety hazard for our children,” the director said. “You’re talking 70 year old buildings ... My comment to a concerned citizen about us building a new school is schedule an appointment and walk through these facilities and look at them firsthand. Then you’ll see why we need it.”

The panel made a motion for Finance Director Mitch Meredith to put the budget in the form of a resolution, which will then be voted on during Wednesday’s Budget Committee meeting before going to the full County Commission.

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.

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