As Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson looks on, commissioners Steve Smith (left) and Robbie Beal have a discussion during the joint meeting of the education and budget committees Monday. // Photo by John McBryde
By JOHN McBRYDE
The 2019-20 school budget for Williamson County Schools got around to the county’s Board of Commissioners Monday as the education and budget committees met in a joint session to see the numbers and hear the reasoning.
The budget was presented to commissioners on the two committees by WCS Superintendent Mike Looney, CFO Leslie Holman and Assistant Superintendent Jason Golden. They fielded questions and made various clarifications in the two-hour meeting held in the auditorium of the Williamson County Administrative Complex. Commissioners were given a brief overview of the self-sustaining central cafeteria fund of $13.8 million and the extended school program fund of $7 million, but dove deeper into the general purpose school fund.
On March 25, the WCS Board of Education voted 12-0 to approve the general purpose budget of $386,248,331 and the capital request of $13,254,951, as well as the central cafeteria and extended school funds.
Here are a few points of discussion that came up during Monday’s meeting:
Commissioner Jennifer Mason, 3rd District, asked about growth in the county and how WCS is handling overcrowding.
“Will [rezoning] address particular schools that are overcrowded, and next year will we be at a point where we won’t have any schools overcapacity?” she said. “Or are we going to continue to have schools that are overcapacity?”
Looney said it’s a moving target.
“We will have additional schools that are overcrowded moving forward,” he explained. “We have a couple different schools in the planning process to be built. We’re looking for property for a Triune elementary school which will relieve some overcrowding in the far east.
“We have significant overcrowding in Spring Hill, and we’re looking at property there. The Henpeck middle school property is in the final stages of design.
“But as we grow by about 1,000 students each year, we will always be struggling keeping schools under capacity.”
Commissioner Steve Smith, 12th District and chair of the budget committee, had a couple of questions about guidance counselors throughout the schools and the need for additional ones.
“First of all,” he asked, “what service do guidance personnel provide in elementary schools? And then explain the growth algorithm you use to arrive at the number overall.”
Looney said a growing number of students are bringing significant needs that require the aid of counselors.
“Guidance counselors in all of our schools play a critical role in serving the social, emotional and mental needs of the students,” he said. “As you might suspect, we are seeing a proliferation of students coming to school with a variety of needs in those areas.
“[Counselors] do everything from one-on-one counseling with the students to deal with things like conflict management, to behavioral challenges. The board’s strategic plan, which has been revised after community input, includes expansion of the number of counselors we have to provide support to those students
“What we have historically done is provide one counselor per elementary school, and what we’re proposing to do is add an additional half-time counselor to larger schools.”
The budget includes $7.6 million for new textbooks, a significant increase from the $3.7 million for textbooks during the current school year.
“The reason there’s a $3.9 million increase is because the last two years we haven’t purchased books,” Looney said. “We have instead had our teachers writing their own curriculum, science to begin with an now social studies.
“Because this year’s purchase requirement relates to reading and English, we just don’t feel comfortable trying to develop a homegrown reading program for students. So there is a need this year to purchase. This is nothing really different than what we have done, we just had a cost-avoidance the last two years.”
The budget includes a 3% pay raise for teachers and other WCS employees, and Looney has factored in an increase beyond that amount to the educator salary schedule in an attempt to put the district’s educators in line with other school systems in the area.
“This is the first time in my professional career where I’ve worked in a district where it’s so hard to recruit new talent to a district because of compensation,” Looney told commissioners. “We literally have people walk away from us when we tell them what they’re going to make.”