Sullivan school system's 2014-15 draft budget would require no property tax increase

Rick Wagner • Jun 24, 2014 at 10:25 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County's school system's draft budget is basically balanced for 2014-15 and would require no county property tax rate increase.

It also has no cost-of-living raises since Tennessee did not help fund them, but teachers and other employees due a salary step increase would receive those.

And it counts on $224,000 from four additional positions being cut and $350,000 in savings from employees voluntarily switching to a limited PPO health insurance option starting in January.

"I anticipate we'll have four positions backed out of the budget in the next two weeks," Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said. "We're losing positions, but we're not losing people yet."

Yennie said most positions were or will be cut through resignations and retirements, although in some cases shuffling revenues will allow positions to be federally funded instead of funded with local or state dollars.

Although some details are yet to be worked out, Yennie and finance manager Leslie Bonner presented the draft budget at an almost three-hour Board of Education work session attended by four of seven board members.

The still-to-be-slightly-tweaked general purpose budget of almost $79.67 million is to go before the BOE at its July 9 meeting, a called meeting to replace the cancelled July 3 meeting.

In a nutshell, the system was looking at a $3.2 million shortfall in revenues compared to proposed expenditures. Cuts make up half the amount, with the rest coming from the fund balance — money Yennie said he hopes will be returned and go mostly unspent as all but about $100,000 will for the current fiscal year.

To finish up the budget and make it balance over an almost $600,000 shortfall from a June 11 work session, Yennie and Bonner said a projected $350,000 in savings from going to the limited PPO would be coupled with the cutting of another four teaching positions, making for a total of at least 19 positions cut through attrition.

The issue will go through collaborative conferencing with teacher groups later this year, before October open enrollment for health insurance. The plan is to offer employees free "gap" insurance to cover most of what the limited plan does not, although higher co-pays and pharmacy charges might make staying with regular insurance more attractive to some.

BOE member Randall Jones asked why new hires after a certain date could not have lesser health insurance and other benefits, similar to what those hired after July 1 will have with new hybrid state retirement benefits.

Bonner responded that the federal Affordable Care Act does not allow such discrimination based on hire dates, something Jones said is common in private industry and business.

An insurance broker called Five Points is to find gap coverage for the system, pending a vote by the BOE.

Bonner also said the system has $212,000 in "equity" money from the state that could be applied to the salary scale and give all steps a $230 increase, or it could be more weighted toward specific steps on the scale. Jones suggested putting it in the 25 years or more step to help boost employees' state retirement.

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