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School system wants additional $1.8M
If approved, move could lead to property tax increase
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Warren County School Board has requested a budget increase of more than $1.8 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

The school’s Maintenance of Effort budget is currently $12,267,766. A proposed increase of $1,812,010 for fiscal year 2019-20 would bring Warren County government’s required allocation to $14,079,776.

“By looking at our BEP (Basic Education Program) funds, the tax increase, sales tax and bank excise tax increases that would bring us up to $2,902,943 in new revenue,” said Director of Schools Bobby Cox.   

The measure was approved by the School Board on Monday night and presented to members of the county’s Education Committee the following day. 

The majority of those additional funds, slightly less than $1.6 million, would be spent on salary increases. 

“We would like to do $1,000 increase in salary for all certified and classified staff,” said Cox. “That would include benefits to do that. That figure is $1.59 million to do a $1,000 increase for all employees.” 

New computers are next on the list at an annual cost of $264,600 a year for four years. 

“We have about 8,000 computers in the school system right now. About 3,250 of those need to be replaced. We’ve worked out a deal with a company called Trinity that we do business with. We can pay for those computers over a four-year period on a lease program that’s probably a better deal than just buying them outright. That’s $264,600 each year. Those are needed for testing and everything else that we do.” 

Financial completion of the Chromebooks project, a cost of $200,000, is an effort by the school system to go paperless by providing all eighth through 12th grade students a computer to use. The Chromebooks were phased in, issued in 2015 to all eight grade students and each class of eighth graders that followed. 

“Currently, we are using $200,000 in our funds to finish our Chromebook project. At the end of this year, all eighth graders through 12th graders will have a Chromebook that they can use. Maybe that money can be repurposed next year to another purpose – possibly continuing to update our computers. Once we update the 3,250 computers, there will be more that we have to do.”

Remaining of the additional revenue is slightly more than $1 million. Cox says those monies are not earmarked for anything specific but School Board members are considering possible expenditures. 

“There are several things that we could do with those funds,” said Cox. “If we did an additional $1,000 for teachers to try and get above the average weighted salary that cost would be $613,529 including benefits, approximately. We’d have to see if our federal programs could handle a $2,000 increase in salaries.”

Also under

consideration:

Beginning a differentiated pay plan in an effort to “staff hard-to-fill positions or high need areas or schools.” No cost was given. 

Paying approximately $14,000 for teacher fingerprinting. The cost is $35 per teacher. Cox says there are approximately 400 teachers who have not been fingerprinted. At this time, state law only requires new hires to be fingerprinted, but he has been waiting on that law to change and require it of all teachers. 

Cox said the school system had to pick up four new positions after changes in federal programs. The cost was $222,000.

If Warren County High School partners with Tennessee College of Applied Technology for a Machine Tool program, the equipment is estimated at $150,000. TCAT would supply the instruction. 

“Then, there are various projects,” said Cox. “We’ve talked about restrooms at the stadium, numerous gym floors that need to be refinished, we’ve got parking lots that need to be done at the Middle School and behind the school at Bobby Ray and West Elementary. We just got estimates in for roofs at the Middle School. The roof is going to cost between $700,000 and $1 million. Building C at Bobby Ray needs a new roof. That’s another $500,000 or $600,000 or $700,000. We have more than $14 million in projects in our strategic plan. We just keep putting those projects off because we just don’t have money to do them,” said Cox. 

Expenses have increased.

“Our total expenditure in 2012-13 was $46.3 million and in 2018-19 it was $52.9 million. If you do the math on that, it’s $6.5 million of increase in expenditure,” said Cox. “The state in our BEP funds has provided us with $3 million roughly of that. We have tried to be very judicious, but over the last four years, our total reserves have started to drop. In 2014-15 it was $6 million. Now, it’s estimated at $5.1 million. It’s dropped roughly $900,000 in reserves. Next year, it is estimated to be at $3.8 million or $3.9. You guys can do that math. We can’t keep continuing to do what we’re doing and get ahead. ”

In 2017, the school system requested an increase of 19 cents, then a 9-cent increase, both of which were rejected by Warren County commissioners. 

If the 26.75-cent increase is approved, the school’s allocation in property taxes would increase from 57.26 cents to 84.01 cents.

At this time, Warren County’s property tax rate is $1.9661. Breakdown: General Fund, 89.35 cents; Solid Waste/Sanitation Fund, 8 cents; Highway/Public Works, 8 cents; General Purpose School Fund, 57.26 cents; General Debt Service Fund, 19 cents; Ambulance Service, 15 cents.

While the school board’s request is for more of the current property tax revenue and not for the county to increase the rate, it might likely result in a property tax increase. 

“If we do this, and all the other things that are happening, we are going to be gouging people,” said Commissioner David Dunlap. “They’ll all be getting mad at us.” 

“If you do a penny, someone will get mad,” said Commissioner Carlene Brown. 

Dunlap added, “That’s not a penny. It’s 26 or 27 pennies.” 

“Over the years of not having a tax increase it is catching up with us,” said Brown. 

Dunlap added, “I understand. It’s crazy. It’s been approximately 15 years that the tax rate did not go up.”

“Every time they would say that, I’d think that’s nothing to brag about,” said Commissioners Deborah Evans. 

Committee members unanimously voted to approve the proposed budget for fiscal year 2019-20 as presented, tax increase included, to the next step in the review process – the county’s Budget and Finance Committee.