Norton school budget heads to public hearing May 21

Mike Still • May 8, 2019 at 5:30 PM

NORTON — City Council members Tuesday said they support returning some, if not all, of a $331,453 school budget surplus for next fiscal year.

That sentiment, from Mayor Joe Fawbush and Vice Mayor Mark Caruso, came after city School Board Chairman Cody McElroy presented the board’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget plan for the council’s consideration.

McElroy said the $9.75 million budget plan calls for a $740,900 increase in spending over the current year, thanks in part to the state’s contribution to a 5 percent salary increase for teachers and the possibility of the council returning the anticipated $331,453 surplus from this year’s budget.

The budget also projects an average daily enrollment from 765 projected this year to 775 in 2019-2020. McElroy said he and the board were encouraged by signs that number might reach 785 by the end of the current fiscal year.

Before McElroy’s presentation, auditor Tamara Greer told the council that the city’s annual audit findings showed an expected $864,192 overall surplus that included the school system’s figure.

McElroy said the budget plan includes a planned request from the city for $42,277 to match 25 percent of a $169,000 grant application for school safety upgrades. Part of that grant would fund a school resource officer at each of the city schools.

The safety grant would also upgrade classroom communications and on-campus security cameras, McElroy said.

McElroy said the budget plan would also continue funding for pre-kindergarten classes and help fund classroom technology upgrades.

Congratulated by Fawbush for ending the current year with a surplus, McElroy said the board and administration were “acutely aware of the financial situation” in previous years and tried to conserve funds.

“I think it reflects how tight everyone’s belts have been,” said McElroy.

The council voted 4-0 to accept the school budget plan and advertise for a public hearing at its May 21 meeting.

Caruso said a leadership team of himself, Fawbush, McElroy, School Board Vice Chair Wes Campbell, City Manager Fred Ramey Jr. and Superintendent Gina Wohlford have been looking at ways to see if the school division can keep “most if not all” of the surplus.

Caruso said the team has looked at the city funding some capital projects, including an expanded tennis facility at Norton City Park and roof replacement at the Norton Community Center that would benefit both city residents and students.

Expanding the tennis court from two to four courts would allow the J.I. Burton tennis team to hold matches at home, Caruso said. Renovations and roof repair to the community center, adjacent to the Norton Elementary School grounds, could help serve events at the school too.

In other business, the council voted to adjust its current year budget to cover $48,502 in additional spending for Fourth of July fireworks, new computer hardware for city offices, upgrades to the emergency services radio system, animal-proof trash containers and turnout gear for the fire department.

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