Cumberland County shoppers added more than $200,000 than expected to county sales tax collections his past year. 

With funds earmarked for the school system, the Cumberland County Board of Education is expected to revisit its $58.6 million budget and reconsider $396,000 in additional projects.

“The sales tax numbers are in their favor,” said Rebecca Stone, 3rd District representative and chairman of the county budget committee. “Until you actually close our your books, you don’t know what your general fund balance will be.

“We thought it would be in the best interest of everybody if they had more time to take this budget and wait to get the final numbers and see if you can’t present a balanced budget.”

The Cumberland County Board of Education approved the budget June 4. The budget did not ask for additional recurring funds from the county, but the board did approve asking for funding for three additional projects: updates to comply with an Office of Civil Rights audit of accessibility at Stone Memorial High School, construction of a Transition Academy facility at The Phoenix School, and an additional school bus.

Sales tax collections through May were $7.98 million against a budget of $9.3 million. But collections are running about $224,000 above budgeted amounts, with typically strong collections in June and the July accrual. Sales tax revenue represents sales from the prior month.

“We would like to take full advantage of the opportunity to take this back to our board to see if some of those additional needs could find a home within our budget,” Kacee Harris, chief financial officer for the school system, said.

Director of Schools Janet Graham said the additional time would allow the school system to get the next estimate of state funding. They had an initial estimate in April. That number decreased by $121,000 when the May estimate came out around May 30. They get an estimate in June and the final amount in July.

“We’re going to hope we either stay the same or go up a little bit,” Graham said. “We never know.”

The budget committee had requested the school system complete its budget in time to present to the commission at the June 6 meeting.

Stone said, “The final numbers could make all the difference … If we had to do the county’s budget before the final numbers, we couldn’t do as accurate of a budget, either.”

Stone said the school system could return July 8 or 9 for a final presentation. The budget committee hopes to complete its work on the full county budget that week, as well.

Graham said the work at SMHS is the priority project. While several items have been addressed, the school’s sidewalks were built with the pavement sloping up to the sidewalk. 

That’s got to be removed and handicap accessible ramps installed.

“The first number we got was $250,000,” Graham said. 

The school system did get an extension on that work. 

Schools to use $3.29 million from fund balance

The school budget includes $3.29 million more spending than revenue. The difference will come from the estimated $5 million fund balance to fund nonrecurring expenses. The state requires the school system to reserve 3% of its budget, $1.76 million. The budget meets that requirement with $564 to spare.

The county’s funding requirement is actually lower than the year before, by about $105,000. That’s due to the loss of students through the Average Daily Maintenance number. The school system is down about 27 students overall. However, the biggest impact to the school system’s budget is due to loss of students in special programs, including Career and Technical Education and special education. 

“We’re in better shape than many of the districts around us,” Graham said. “Some have lost hundreds of students.”

She said some of that could be due to success with the Response to Intervention program helping students move out of special education services. However, there could also be errors in how students are reported to the state, and staff have been reviewing those files.

Additional library funding

Second District Commissioner Nancy Hyder asked if there was a possibility of finding $11,000 in additional funds for the school libraries. Harris said the budget includes supply and book funding for the libraries. 

“We’ve had discussion with our principals to talk to their librarians and support staff to see what school-level money can do to help with those needs,” Harris said. “We’re working on a plan.”

School staff pay questioned

Hyder questioned the pay for workers in various areas of the school budget. 

School nurses are paid what Hyder termed a “pretty low” wage. Graham said it can be challenging to find nurses, especially registered nurses to teach health science. 

“They take a big cut in pay, but they like the teacher schedule,” Graham said. Many work part time to supplement their salary. 

Bus drivers make about $12,000 a year, Hyder said. Even though the work is part time, it still involves several hours each day during school. She asked if better pay could improve the school system’s ability to recruit drivers.

Graham said the school system pays drivers about the same as surrounding counties. Unlike other counties, they also pay medical insurance. 

Cafeteria workers start at $8.25 an hour and work 200 days a year.

“We can recognize up to five years of experience,” said Kathy Hamby, school nutrition supervisor. That experience increases pay to $9.56 an hour. 

There are 42 full-time employees working six to eight hours a day, while the other 68 employees work part time, with about five hours a day scheduled. Cafeteria employees can also work over the summer through the summer feeding program. 

“A lot of our part-time workers are retired and want to work part time, or they’re parents who want to have the same schedule as their children,” Hamby said. “We’ve had to beg people to work over the summer.”

Hamby said the school system offers 13 paid snow days each year, if needed, and 10 paid holidays. Cafeteria employees also eat free. Full-time employees can get individual insurance at no cost; however, they must pay the full cost of adding their family to their insurance plan. 

The nutrition budget has no increase in meal prices for the next year and includes the 2.5% raise for all employees.

The committee voted to approve the budget, pending final budget approval. Seventh District Commissioner Jerry Cooper abstained as an employee of the school system.

Committee to revisit Chamber, Fair Park funding

The budget committee had tentatively approved funding requests from outside agencies in May. However, a representative from Fair Park Senior Center was not able to attend the meeting.

County Finance Director Nathan Brock said he would ask the agency to send a representative to a meeting in early July. He did not anticipate the presentation would take more than a few minutes.

John Patterson, 9th District commissioner, said he wants the Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce to return to the committee following a change in leadership at the agency.

The committee had tentatively approved $52,000 in funds for the Chamber. 

Brock said the county itemized how its funds were to be spent. 

Patterson said, “I have questions about the validity and what is actually being done.” 

The Chamber board ended its contract with Brad Allamong in May and hired former Crossville City Manager David Rutherford as the interim Chamber president. He agreed to a six-month agreement while assisting the Chamber with a search for a new president and working on several ongoing projects.

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.