Washington County school board is bringing a balanced budget and a request to the county commission

Jessica Fuller • Jun 2, 2018 at 12:31 AM

It took pulling $1 million from the fund balance, but the Washington County Board of Education passed a balanced budget Wednesday night amid some unexpected expenses.

Finance Director Brad Hale walked board members through a budget he was able to balance by cutting some non-personnel costs, absorbing 13 positions through attrition and clipping a system-wide raise for teachers other than the step increase required by the state.

He said projected revenue for the fiscal year 2019 budget is a little more than $67 million. Hale said for this budget, he drew $1 million from the system’s fund balance to make sure the budget is within range at a little over $68 million.

“The mayor (Dan Eldridge), Mr. (Joe) Grandy and the entire Budget Committee has very clearly said, ‘We want you to understand, that amount, that’s all you’re getting. You’re not getting any additional money from the county, that’s what you have to balance your budget out,’ ” Hale told the board before going over the budget and cuts. 

Hale mentioned a $370,000 expense he said came to his attention a few weeks ago. This expense comes from liability insurance for the department’s buildings and the contents inside the buildings — an expense Hale said the county has paid for decades. State auditors said this is a violation of statute, and the commission can’t pay that insurance because it doesn’t own the buildings or the contents inside.

“That’s $370,000 the school system now has to swallow that we have not had to do in the past,” Hale explained Wednesday.

That didn’t sit well with a couple of board members, or newly named interim director Bill Flanary.

“I believe the courthouse is sincere — they’re not going to give us a dime,” he said. “I’m pretty upset about that $370,000. They had to have seen that coming, that had to have been in the budget somewhere.”

Keith Ervin, who said he wasn’t comfortable pulling $1 million from the fund balance, wouldn’t vote on the budget without an amendment that Flanary would talk to the commission about allocating an extra $370,000 for the department to pay for the liability insurance. Chairman Jack Leonard said he’d like to see the county give the board the money for the insurance for the 2019 fiscal year because the board hasn’t had to budget it in decades.

“It was something we were not even aware needed to be budgeted, so I think they should do that at least for the first year,” Leonard said.

Before the vote, Dellinger made a motion to reduce the number of academic coaches from 12 to four system-wide to make room in the budget for more teachers to avoid overcrowded classrooms.

Hale explained that three of the 12 coaches are federally funded, so they don’t impact the budget at all, and that nine of those coaches are tenured positions, meaning if the positions are eliminated, they will still be in the system as teachers.

He also pointed out that the coaches are paid on the teacher scale, which is an annual average of $67,000 accounting for salary and benefits. That means tenured teachers wouldn’t make substantial changes in the budget and the non-tenured teachers would only free up about $58,000 to $60,000 a position in the budget.

Annette Buchanan seconded the motion, but said she wanted to see the system restructured to have coaches in specialities, instead of one coach per elementary school. When called for comment, Flanary disagreed on both accounts.

“You can balance your budget by leaving those 12 people in place,” he said. “If you cut those people, real people, and their families will lose jobs.”

He also added that not having a coach on site reduces effectiveness, as having coaches specializing, say, in K-5 classrooms or in K-8 math classrooms would have the coaches bouncing around different schools throughout the county.

“I hear what you’re saying about their specialties, and that’s a valid point, these principals have got to find ways to use their strengths to the best effect at that school,” Flanary said.

Dellinger withdrew her motion and the board passed the balanced budget 8-1, with Dellinger voting against it. Flanary and Hale will present the budget at the county Budget Committee on June 13, where Flanary will ask the county about $370,000 to cover the liability insurance costs.

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