By Heather Mullinix
Cumberland County will be required to contribute more and more towards its education program as the state transitions its funding formula to account for what it terms "ability to pay," but that doesn't mean the school system will see more money for operating.
"We've got to start planning," Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle told the Cumberland County Board of Education at a budget work session Tuesday. "If somebody doesn't put the breaks on it [Fox funding formula], it's going to be a train wreck for Cumberland County, for the funding body...It won't make any changes in our school system on the money we get, it will just be more weight on the funding body to fund that."
The state uses the Fox Formula to determine a county's fiscal capacity index, which is then used to determine the amount of Basic Education Program funds the state will allot each county and the local funding required to fund education. That fiscal capacity is based on property tax bases and sales tax base.
In Cumberland County, the property tax base in 2011 was $1.4 billion, 20th in the state, and the sales tax base was $512 million, ranking 22nd in the state. The state has determined Cumberland County's total BEP funding is $45 million, with the county required to provide $16.5 million in matching funds. But that funding amount is based on using a combination of the new Fox Formula fiscal capacity and the former fiscal capacity formula. The state has been phasing in the new formula over time.
That's why Cumberland County's required match has been increasing in recent years. This year, the required match will be $16.5 million, up about $600,000 more than last year's required funding.
VanWinkle provided documentation of how much above required funding each school system in the state is provided by its funding body. Cumberland County is one of two counties in the state that funds schools at the required match. The other is Campbell County. Three school systems fund less than the required match, DeKalb, Bedford and Greene counties, but debt service payments are used to cover the difference. That isn't applicable in Cumberland County, VanWinkle said, due to the 1/2 cent sales tax designated for school debt service.
In surrounding counties, Roane County funds 28 percent above required funding; Scott County funds 26 percent above the required local match; Fentress County is 4 percent above the requirement; Putnam County is 22 percent above the required funding; and Bledsoe County is 54 percent above the required match.
There was concern Cumberland County might not hit budgeted amounts for local support this past year as sales tax collections, while up from previous years, failed to hit budgeted amounts. However, property tax collections have exceeded expectations, with BOE Business Manager Cindy Randol estimating $7.9 million in collections, and sales tax collections are estimated to be $7.7 million. That, along with a few other local taxes, will bring the 2012-'13 county support to $16.1 million, above the $16 million budgeted.
"That's if the property tax and sales tax come in the next month like I estimated it," Randol said.
VanWinkle reviewed the proposed budget, including revenues of $47.5 million and expenditures of $51.6 million. It is estimated there will be a $4.6 million fund balance to carry over to the next year. Those funds are used to pay the school system's operating expenses until revenue begins being received and for one-time or capital expenditures, such as buses or computers and building projects like those completed at Pleasant Hill and Pine View elementary schools.
"We build our budget around the required match," VanWinkle said.
The proposed budget includes a 3 percent salary increase for teachers, changes to longevity pay for non-certified personnel and step raises for personnel. The 3 percent salary increase will cost $595,619. Longevity pay will now be paid as a percentage of an employee's salary as a one-time bonus, beginning at year 16. That change adds $31,879.95 to the budget.
Recent data shows Cumberland County's teacher salaries ranks 121 out of 136 school systems in the state, up four spots since the study was last done in 2004, and ranks sixth in insurance benefits, down two spots since 2004. Overall, teacher compensation in Cumberland County ranks 78th in the state.
There is also a 5.6 percent increase in health insurance premiums. VanWinkle said the school system had not received guidance on how substitute teachers would be handled for purposes of determining eligibility for health insurance benefits under provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Under the act, employees working 30 or more hours a week are eligible for health insurance benefits. VanWinkle said at one time, it was thought that limit would be an average over a year, but now there was the possibility it would be a window of time that was considered, and there was no answer on how long that window would be — a week, a month, or other time period — or if working over 30 hours one week would entitle a substitute for one week of health benefits or one year of benefits. VanWinkle said substitutes would be limited to working no more than four days each week.
"They've not answered our question," VanWinkle said. "It will be tough to monitor and weight will be on subs to track their days because they work all over the county."
VanWinkle noted Cumberland County was better poised to absorb changes in health insurance legislation because support staff are already provided insurance where many other counties do not.
The proposed budget does not include building construction projects, but does provide funding to replace the roof at North Cumberland Elementary and seal the exterior mortar.
The board will need to schedule a public hearing on the budget prior to considering approval. Once the board approves a budget, it will go to the county commission for consideration.