Bobby Cox had a scare when commissioners on the Warren County Education Committee had a motion on the floor to reject the school system’s proposed 2012-13 budget.
It is going to take a little over $11.6 million from local tax dollars to run Warren County Schools, according to the budget presented to the committee. Total school system funding from local, state and federal dollars is projected at $44.6 million.
Cox, the incoming Director of Schools, is asking the Warren County Commission for the equivalent of 1.3 cents of the property tax which will amount to somewhere between $90,000 and $95,000.
Commissioner Joel Akers asked, “Is there $90,000 worth of fat in this budget?”
Cox answered, “It is possible. Maybe. But, there is usually a little fat in every budget.”
Commissioners realize educational funding coming from the county falls under maintenance of effort, which is a part of the Education Improvement Act. Maintenance of effort prevents local governments from reducing funding for education from one year to the next.
The budget calls for increases in several areas. Homebound students have increased significantly since 2010. Staff development has nearly doubled. Travel expenses have gone up to 51 cents per mile. Medical insurance also increased 9 percent.
Interestingly, the amount of $322,000 used to pay accountants/ bookkeepers during 2011-2012 has been shifted to pay internal audit personnel for the 2012-2013 school year.
Career Ladder money is decreasing. Cox said as Career Ladder teachers and administrative personnel retire, the money will go away.
Energy conservation measures put in place in the school system have already saved an estimated 7 percent, according to Director of Schools Dr. Jerry Hale. The budget normally asks for a 5 percent increase but the new budget shows a decrease even with the large addition at Dibrell School.
“There have been behavior changes,” said Hale. “Teachers must lose their refrigerators and microwaves, but the energy savings is substantial.”
The long and detailed budget was confusing to some commissioners. Morris Bond asked, “What does ‘other’ mean? Is that something you don’t want to tell us about? There are 81 ‘others’ on these nine pages.”
Cox explained sometimes a line item will not go in a specified spot so it goes into the “other” category.
Dr. Hale said, “All of the expenditures must have a correlation.”
Akers made a motion to not send the budget through. “I think $95,000 needs to be cut from this budget,” he said.
Commissioner Terry Bell stated, “If sales tax keeps rising, maybe you won’t have to ask for anything next year.”
Cox made a final plea. “We are trying to better our school system. We have no hidden agenda. It’s all out there. I think this is a fair budget to start with.”
Cox went on to say, “We would like to have workshops with the commissioners. We all need to work together.”
Hale agreed saying, “Sales tax is higher. We have worked with the county for years to balance that. This is the best balance we can come up with.”
After Cox’s plea, Akers withdrew his motion. The committee voted 5-0 to pass the budget through to the Budget and Finance Committee. The Budget and Finance Committee met later the same night and also passed the school system’s budget with a vote of 5-0.
Present at the meeting were County Executive John Pelham, Hale, Cox, commissioners Bell, Akers, Bond, Clinton Hill, Diane Starkey and Melissa Yancy.
Budget and Finance Committee members are commissioners Hershel Wells, Terry Bell, Carl Bouldin, Ken Martin and Michael Martin.