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Sullivan Board of Education budget strips $3 million from last year

Rick Wagner • Jul 1, 2013 at 11:59 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s school board passed a balanced $86,991,947 2013-14 budget Monday night.

It is $3,019,463 less than the amended 2012-13 budget and, assuming approval by the county commission, would require no additional county revenue — no property tax increase — beyond what is already projected from education’s current share of the property tax rate and other tax revenues.

“We met the challenge that was put before us,” BOE Chairman Dan Wells said of a budget that initially was about $4.5 million out of balance. It passed 6-1.

The budget includes no cost-of-living raise for any employees, with $300,000 in Tennessee funds for that to be held over until the 2014-15 school year, when by state mandate they must be used for differentiated pay other than years of service or educational attainment.

However, additional pay for step increases and advanced degrees are funded and will remain, something officials said wasn’t clear from a Saturday work session.

Another issue clarified was that all custodians and maintenance employees will have their hours cut from 40 a week to 36.25, not just the maintenance employees as had been suggested Saturday.

Director of Schools Jubal Yennie and Board of Education members thanked finance director Leslie Bonner for her work on the budget, which underwent BOE work session scrutiny Saturday but shifted before the approval Monday night.

One change is that the budget requires only $1.8 million in fund balance or undesignated reserves instead of an originally estimated $2 million.

The $2 million bordered on not meeting a Tennessee recommendation that governments keep 3 percent of their budgets in unallocated fund balance in case of emergencies and unexpected expenses.

The cuts represent $2.7 million less in expenditures since the June 3 draft budget, Bonner said.

The spending plan includes cuts from central office down to individual schools.

At the central office, a reorganization uses a series of shifts of duties to absorb the duties of human resources supervisor Larry Hall, who is retiring. Three other positions were cut from central office, a secretarial position going to a federal program, a communications/virtual learning/administrative position in which the person is going back to teaching, and a data facilitator position cut due to reduced federal funding.

Among other cuts since the June 3 draft were elimination of 24 non-tenured teachers and two tenured ones, as well as cutting 33 part-time instructional aides, the latter at a savings of $250,000.

Substitute teacher allocations were cut because professional development is being rescheduled to be outside the regular school days.

A new low-cost, low-benefit health insurance option will save an estimated $250,000, while charging employees more for a health insurance increase saves more than $300,000, and textbooks were cut from $600,000 to $200,000. Two vocational positions cut at Sullivan South High School saved $122,000.

Principal incentive bonuses were cut from $75,000 to $$45,000, while cutting out behind-the-wheel drivers education will save $140,000.

All told, general purpose regular education funding directly tied to the classroom was down $1.5 million.

In the regular education indirect budget, the central office changes alone saved about $150,000, and decreased professional development and school level libraries also were cut.

Savings in the office of the superintendent were $150,000, while those in the office of the principal were $115,000 and financial services saw a slight decrease of $8,870.

Human resources was up $27,000 but only because the assistant superintendent assigned those duties was already paid more than the former HR person, who had heart surgery and is taking sick days before his official retirement begins.

The cut of custodian hours will save $232,000 and the cut of maintenance hours will save $277,000, while transportation costs for Innovation Academy were cut $35,000.

Food services had no change and is self-supporting, and other areas had no change except a $131,000 drop from debt refinancing and a decrease in the transfer to IA.

Todd Broughton said he cast the lone no vote on the budget because Yennie told him last year the principal bonuses were funded from Race to the Top but said Monday night they were funded for 2012-13 and 2011-12 with local money.

The board also approved a 2013-14 renovation fund budget of $1,065,000.

The proposal went before the Administrative Committee after the BOE meeting, and will go before the Executive Committee tonight and the Budget Committee July 11.

“I don’t know if the county commission is ready for this budget yet, but we are,” Yennie said.

In addition, Yennie said the budget for Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee includes a Project Lead the Way teaching position to be funded from a federal Race to the Top grant instead of funding from the city of Kingsport, which jointly operates the science, technology, engineering and math school.

In other action, the BOE approved a paid pre-K program, costing $500 or $590 per week, at Miller Perry, Rock Springs and Central Heights elementary schools if there is enough demand.

The board also heard but took no action on a proposal for a telemedicine program, where students would receive health care from a nurse practitioner, existing school nurses and other medical professionals via a computer link. The program is called Integrate MD and would come at no cost to the school system and use health insurance coverage for funding.

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