Faced with a $503,000 reduction in revenue, the budget committee of the Cumberland County Board of Education recommended removing a proposed 2.5% raise for school system employees from the 2020-’21 budget.

“We want to take care of all of our employees. With the uncertainty and the unprecedented times we are in, I think it’s a very wise move you all are making,” said Director of Schools Ina Maxwell. “We want to be able to keep our employees.”

In all, the removal of the raises, and the associated reductions in Social Security, state retirement and other lines, saves about $1 million.

Personnel will still receive scheduled “step raises,” which are based on the salary schedule for years of service and level of education. 

Teresa Boston, 8th District representative, said, “I agree. We don’t know what is coming up. And that’s what scares me the most — the what-if game.”

She moved to approve the budget and send it to the full board for consideration at their meeting July 6, supported by Jim Inman, 1st District representative. Anita Hale, 4th District representative, voted in favor.

Stace Karge, 9th District representative, was not present for the meeting.

The $58.3 million budget includes a budgeted deficit of $2.93 million, funded with the $6 million fund balance. 

“This number has decreased from the last time we looked at it because we have decreased that system-wide raise,” Harris said.

Revenue includes $18.29 million in local revenue and $34.5 million in basic education funding from the state. 

Earlier versions of the budget had left about $800,000 in the fund balance above the required $1.7 million reserve. The new budget includes an additional $1.3 million for a $3 million fund balance reserve.

Fund balance may only be used to fund one-time projects of capital projects and not recurring expenses.

“With the unprecedented uncertainty that faces us, and we’ve had lots of discussions about this, I feel it’s a very wise move to try to capture as much as we can in that fund balance this year,” Harris said. 

“We just don’t know what is coming down the pike.”

Harris said the state had recommended planning for various scenarios for the next several years.

“The decisions we make financially this year, we’re going to feel the effects of that next year and the year beyond that,” she said. 

The school budget included a 2.5% systemwide salary increase last year, 2% in the 2018-’19 budget and 4% in the 2017-’18 budget.

A priority for the administrative team had been preserving employee positions, she said. 

“We’d always love to pay everybody more, but we just don’t think the circumstances are right for that, right now,” Harris said. 

The budget retains changes to coaching supplements, bringing some coaching positions equal to similar sports and adding funds for some additional assistant coaches. The plan costs $41,753. 

The budget also includes the final year of a one-to-one technology initiative, about $1.2 million for maintenance projects and $675,000 to buy new English/language arts textbooks.

Some projects will carry over to the next fiscal year, such as replacement of door locks funded with Safe Schools grant funds and construction of the transition academy. 

Harris also included $1,000 for contracted services to conduct an appraisal of property at Baker’s Crossroads, approved by the board at its June 25 meeting.

As a professional service, bids are not required. Harris said she would reach out to multiple appraisers in the community and select the lowest quote or, if all are the same price, conduct a random drawing.

The panel also approved salary schedules for the 2020-’21 fiscal year. The salary schedules are the same as the schedules in place this school year. 

A first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree earns $36,187 while a teacher with 20 years experience and a Master’s degree will earn $51,801.

Step raises are not consistent across the certified personnel pay scale, though it averages 2% overall. 

Cumberland County retains pay schedules that recognize educational attainment, with higher pay for teachers with master’s, education specialist and doctoral degrees. It also continues to recognize teachers with 10, 20 and 30 credits beyond a master’s degree. 

The state only recognizes bachelor’s and master’s degrees on minimum salary schedules.

The non-certified pay scale remains the same, as well. Teaching assistants, for example, earn $8.57 per hour their first year. 

A non-certified supervisor earns $35,544.49 a year their first year. 

Annual step raises provide a 3% salary increase through the 16th year. Then, the raise is calculated at 1% raise plus the longevity payment — 3% for individuals with 16-20 years, 3.5% for employees with 21-25 years, and 4% for 26-plus years.

The nutrition budget and pay scales were also approved with removal of the budgeted 2.5% raise. 

The board will meet July 6 at 4 p.m. for a work session to discuss the opening of school in August amid the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, with a special-called meeting set for 7 p.m.

The budget and pay scales will be part of that special-called agenda.

 

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.