Sullivan school officials plan to have balanced budget Monday

Rick Wagner • Jun 30, 2013 at 4:26 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County school officials plan to have a balanced 2013-14 budget ready for approval Monday night.

The almost $85.2 spending plan requiring no property tax increase for education is down from the amended 2012-13 budget of $90,011,410.

However, the budget includes layoffs and position reductions throughout the system, a reduction in hours for maintenance workers, no cost-of-living or step increase raises, increased health insurance premiums starting in January, elimination of behind-the-wheel drivers education programs at the high schools and other cost- cutting measures.

“I’m pleased we have been able to preserve as much of the classroom emphasis as we could,” BOE Vice Chairman Jack Bales said.

Chairman Dan Wells and Bales said they believe the Sullivan County Commission has no plans or inclination to increase the property tax rate this year, following an increase last year that increased education funding.

“We need to have our budget balanced when we go to the County Commission,” Wells said.

Immediately after Monday’s BOE meeting, the Administrative Committee is scheduled to review the school budget, followed by the Executive Committee on Tuesday night and the Budget Committee July 11.

The BOE started last month with a budget $4.5 million out of balance, plagued by a steady decrease in revenues, spurred by a steadily declining enrollment.

Of that, $2 million will be made up using fund balance, the equivalent of a savings account, leaving the system just above the Tennessee recommendation to have a fund balance of at least 3 percent of the budget.

About $300,000 Tennessee provided to the school system for teacher raises will be held until next year and used for differential pay, Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said, but can’t be used for other purposes in the 2013-14 budget.

Before the group started, Yennie presented copies of eight cuts that the board informally agreed to include in the budget:

• Central office staff reductions of $125,000.

• Textbook reductions of $400,000, leaving $200,000 for textbook purchases, which Yennie said will delay some purchases and eliminate others.

• A cut in elementary science, technology, engineering and math personnel of $220,000.

• South High career technical education reductions of $110,000, the pay of two tenured teachers who were laid off from programs that drew few students.

• Contracted services cuts of $75,000.

• Debt reconfiguration, by refinancing, of $35,000.

• School level allocation cuts of $20,000.

• And a $180,000 cut in substitute teacher expenses by rescheduling professional development.

That left the BOE with about $1,412,280 to make in cuts. The board then proceeded to recommend the following cuts on top of those. Those cuts, which Yennie said were subject to some tweaking before Monday night, are:

• Savings of $300,000 by laying off part-time instructional aides. Assistant Director David Timbs said the exact numbers weren’t finalized but that a rough draw would keep 49 full-time general purpose school fund aides — 28 full time and 21 part time or five hours a day. Standard practice has been to replace vacant full-time aides with part-time ones, he said.

• A cut of $325,000 by splitting health insurance costs with employees. That benefit for teachers will be subject to collaborative conferencing with the Sullivan County Education Association and the Professional Educators of Sullivan County.

• A savings of $390,000 by moving more than 50 maintenance workers from 40-hour weeks to 36.5-hour weeks.

• A cut of $140,000 by eliminating two part-time drivers education instructor positions and one full-time drivers ed instructor position. However, the board said if parents were willing to pay per student for behind-the-wheel instruction, the program could continue.

BOE member Randall Jones said the cost worked out to about $500 per student served since only 248 students took the driving portion of the program last school year. The current charge is $50 per student, and BOE member Robyn Ivester said she saves about $10 a month because her daughter at Sullivan East High took behind-the-wheel drivers training.

• Cutting the Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee bus costs from $100,000 to $65,000, a savings of $35,000. Transportation Supervisor Evelyn Rafalowski said she is hoping bus contractor bids come in even below that amount.

• Saving $30,000 by cutting back on evaluations, including formative assessment tests at the high school level.

• And reducing incentives for principals — a differential or merit pay “bonus” — from a total of $75,000 to $45,000, a $30,000 savings.

Discussed cuts that were not informally agreed to included eliminating or reducing the amount the school system pays for supplemental health insurance for retirees on Medicare.

Jones said doing away with that could save the system $286,000 a year, although the board members and Yennie indicated they didn’t want to make such a drastic change with little advance warning.

Jones said options could include capping the amount paid per year per retiree or grandfathering existing retirees but having less of a benefit for future retirees who leave after a set date.

The board also reviewed an email from BOE attorney Pat Hull indicating that paying part of the supplemental insurance has been done since 1987 but was never approved formally by the board, although Hull said it still might be challenged in forthcoming collaborative conferencing.

Another option discussed was an early retirement incentive. Bales said limiting the Medicare supplement coverage in the future could be one in itself and that he understands a change in health insurance may require a one-year notice.

Jones said a retirement incentive that drew 50 retirees could save $1 million the first year, assuming only 25 of those positions were refilled. Teachers who started teaching straight out of college can retire in their early to mid-50s.

The board also reviewed the draft renovation fund for 2013-14, which is to be $1,065,000 but had $177,500 too much in spending. The board had added $75,000 for the replacement of the cooler/freezer at South High, which it turned down at the regular June meeting as an emergency.

The central office staff is to make the renovation and operating budgets balance by Monday night.

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