Director of Schools Matt Hixson told the Times New on Monday that one reason some of the facility repairs and improvements were put off last year is because the central office wanted to wait until the new director was in place and make those decisions as a team.
Hixson began in January, relieving interim director Reba Bailey, who took over after former director Steve Starnes resigned in June 2018.
Some of the projects addressed in the 2019-20 budget include paving both county high school parking lots, refurbishing both high school tennis courts, and several major roof and HVAC system replacements countywide.
The BOE also agreed to set aside $50,000 for use by individual schools to make improvements to their sports facilities.
Those funds will be drawn from the capital outlay project budget line and were already accounted for in the budget, so it doesn’t constitute new spending. Hixson said the funds will be equitably disbursed between school sites.
As for teacher raises, Hawkins County’s portion of the state mandated pay increases for certified staff will cost the county school system $390,000. The raises amount to approximately $650 per year per certified employee.
The Central Office’s approach to the 2019-20 budget has been to look for cuts where possible, mostly by not replacing retirements and resignations unless absolutely necessary.
“Staffing is 84-85 percent of our budget, so we look at that first,” Hixson said. “Do we need everybody that we say we need? Do we need to look at where we can cut if people retire, if people leave the district? A typical year to year if you lose three, you're replacing three. We're looking at, we lose three, can we get by with two.”
But the 2019-20 budget adds a couple of positions as well.
Hixson has proposed a new central office supervisor who will oversee a program that will hopefully bring home school and private school students into the county school system through the use of online instructional materials that can be used at home to “learn at your own pace.”
At a cost of about $60,000 annually, that position should be able to pay for itself if the program attracts at least 10 new students.
Hixson also proposes a new central office staff member whose sole responsibility will be applying for grant funding for the school system. The cost of that employee is estimated around $50,000 annually which, again, will hopefully more than pay for itself.
“It very important for us, even with those additions, to maintain a 'like' budget from year to year,” Hixson said. “We don't want to increase (spending) just to increase. We don't believe in throwing money at problems or challenges. If it makes sense and it's the best thing to do, we're going to expend the money and find a way to do it. If not, we're going to cut and make sure our staffing ratios are commensurate with our population.”
Hixson added, “We're very hopeful that even with the additional spending we put in place, paring that with the cuts, in the end fund balance we're going to wind up positive. Otherwise we wouldn't have presented that to the board.”
For the school general fund, total revenue for 2019-20 is projected at $52.268 million while expenditures are $55.511 million.
The difference is $3.242 million, but a portion of that is a $120,000 reserve that was set up from unspent text book expenditures from 2018-19, leaving the amount to be drawn from savings at $3.1 million.
It's not yet known how much savings the school system will have at the end of the current fiscal year, but it ended the 2017-18 fiscal year with $12.2 million in reserve.
The separate 2019-20 school transportation budget will require $330,912 from reserves to balance, with revenue projected at $3.339 million and expenditures projected at $3.670 million.
The separate 2019-20 school cafeteria budget will require $212,446 from reserves to balance, with revenue projected at $4.029 million and expenditures projected at $4.241 million.
On Thursday, the BOE approved its 2019-20 general fund, transportation and cafeteria budgets, which will be presented to the Hawkins County Commission during a budget workshop next Monday morning.
The school budgets and county budgets will then be combined and considered for approval by the full County Commission, although that's not expected to take place at least until July.