By Heather Mullinix
The Cumberland County Board of Education approved its 2013-'14 budget Monday night, with a 2.5 percent salary increase for teachers and funding for the first year of a School Resource Officer program. Though the final budget is about $3 million out of balance, the board proposes using its fund balance and seeking no more than the minimum required funding for the school system from the county.
"We tried to tighten it up as much as we possibly can to be able to balance the budget, number one, and then be able to go to the county commission with less than a large amount of money that obviously would put them in a bad position in their budget, as well," Director of Schools Donald Andrews said.
The proposed budget was revised to remove $154,041 for the cost of 120-day contracts at the Central Office, two interim teacher positions at a cost of $92,000 and $630,000 for replacement of the roof and sealing of mortar at North Cumberland Elementary.
"We do still have room in that line [teacher pay] for the 10 interim positions, should they be needed," Chief Financial Officer Bob Scarbrough told the board. The school system routinely budgets 10 additional teaching positions in the event teachers must be off for medical leave and a certified teacher must be hired to fill the vacancy.
The board also voted to not renew its membership in the National School Boards Association at a savings of $4,600. Jim Blalock, 8th District representative, moved to remove the NSBA membership fees, supported by Sandy Brewer, 3rd District representative. The motion was approved with Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative; David Bowman, 7th District representative; and Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, voting no.
Vivian Hutson, 6th District representative, noted the roof at North Cumberland was under warranty through November 2015 and, though the original company had been sold, the new owner agreed to honor the warranty and fix the leaks. The mortar sealing project could be part of a proposed addition construction project.
Andrews had several possible reductions for the board to consider, including the 1.5 percent salary increase the board had previously approved for certified personnel, at a savings of $278,000, and decreasing expenses for fuel $100,000, electricity $100,000 and custodians $100,000. Additional proposed reductions were asking personnel to pay the health insurance premium increase, for a savings of $223,750, and asking the county to fund the purchase of school buses at a cost of $510,000.
The decreases in fuel, electrical and custodian expenditures were suggested after studying the expenditures in the past budget. However, there was concern about reducing the fuel and electrical budgets too much, considering the upward trend in those costs. There was also discussion of the custodian reduction due to increased square footage and recent additions completed at Pine View and Pleasant Hill elementary schools.
Andrews had also suggested seeking $510,000 for bus purchases and $311,770 for an SRO program from the county. He also recommended seeking an unspecified amount for proposed building projects that include the CCHS stadium renovation and additions at North Cumberland and Crab Orchard elementary schools.
There was discussion among the board about the 1.5 percent certified personnel pay increase required by the state and the 1.5 percent pay increase approved by the board in May. It would be possible to pay those items as one-time bonuses and not add those to an employee's pay on an ongoing basis. However, board members recalled voting to make the increases raises and not bonuses.
Davis said, "If you give it as bonuses, you have to have a lot more reductions taken out."
Schlafer said, "The state gave a 1.5 percent raise. I never heard that was a bonus. That was a raise."
The state is allowing school systems to provide those additional funds as bonuses or increases on the local portion of the teacher pay scale. The 1.5 percent will not be added to the state's salary schedule. A look back at minutes from the May meeting found the motion for the 3 percent increase for budgetary purposes referred to a raise.
Brewer suggested reducing the local salary increase .5 percent, for a total certified personnel salary increase of 2.5 percent, saving about $92,000. That added to savings in the custodian line, $100,000, about $18,000 in reductions to fuel and electricity and the $4,600 reduction from NSBA dues, to fund $233,827.50 of the SRO program. Sheriff Butch Burgess has committed to providing one of four officers from his budget this first year.
"Since I've been on the board, we've talked about the need for SROs," Brewer said. "I recommend we show the county commission we're serious about this."
Bowman agreed, adding, "We fund the start up and then they take it up...If we don't take this step, it's always going to be a great idea."
Josh Stone, 4th District representative, wanted assurance from the county they would take up funding of the program after the first year and there was also discussion of needing a memorandum of understanding with the Sheriff's Department for the program.
The board was not in favor of asking teachers to absorb the 5 percent increase in health insurance premiums, set to begin in January, this year.
"We can squeeze by this year," Brewer said. "It needs to be known we may not be able to next year. But I'd like to keep it as is at least one more year."
It was also noted it was important to leave the purchase of buses in the transportation budget because the state funds transportation based on a three-year average of expenses.
The budget doesn't seek any more additional local funding than that required by the state for the Basic Education Program match — $16.59 million, up from $16 million budgeted last year. The county will determine how to meet that required match through a combination of local taxes, primarily property taxes and local-option sales tax.
Stone moved to approve the budget with a 2.5 percent pay increase for certified personnel, funding for the SRO program and a memorandum of understanding with the county regarding continued funding for the SRO program. The motion was supported by Bowman but board members questioned if the county could make binding commitments regarding future budgets.
Andrews noted the best the county could offer the school system was a good faith assurance it would pick up that funding in future years.
"If they don't, we don't have the money for it," he said.
Stone then amended his motion to remove the requirement for future funding commitments, with Bowman supporting the motion.
The motion as approved with Schlafer voting no.
"I cannot and do not support another bare bones budget," Schlafer said. "I'm tired of it."
Schlafer, Davis and Hutson all noted they had family members working in the school system and declared a conflict in voting on the budget.
The budget will be presented to the education committee of the Cumberland County Commission at its meeting today at 4:30 p.m. The meeting will be held in the small meeting room of the Cumberland County Courthouse.
Two public hearings are also scheduled Thursday, from noon to 1 p.m. and from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Central Services board room, 368 Fourth St.