School capital funds and a district-wide employee raise for next year were topics of contention between school and county officials at Thursday evening’s County Budget Committee meeting.
Superintendent Mike Looney and school CFO Leslie Holman attended the meeting to answer questions for the commissioners and County Mayor Rogers Anderson.
School officials reported the school budget should be balanced by the end of June, and that next year’s budget proposal can be fully funded without asking for additional pennies from the commission.
Williamson County Schools currently receives $1.29 of the $2.31 property tax rate per $100 of assessed value.
Expected revenue in the proposed school budget is $272,801,248, which includes a four percent state-funded pay increase for teachers and an additional $800,000 for the 11th month of insurance coverage; currently, the state only funds 10 months.
Holman said she anticipates $119 in Basic Education Program (BEP) funds, or funding from the state, including $2.9 million in growth.
Next year’s proposed budget is $290,464,993 – up from last year’s $273 million.
Commissioner Judy Lynch Herbert asked about cutting a few expenses, like scaling back the requested psychologists from three to two. She also asked asked why a principal must be in place at the new Nolensville schools a year before they open.
Looney said principals are hired in advance to help with teacher hires, establishing PTOs and other logistical tasks.
Herbert initially proposed cutting the budget by $3 million, which would take the $290 million proposal down to $287 million, but then withdrew the motion.
Commissioners also disputed the proposed five percent pay increase for all WCS employees, which received the school board’s approval.
For the past two years, school employees received a two percent pay raise. The year before that was a 2.5 percent pay bump, and the year prior, during the recession, there was no pay increase.
Looney defended the school board’s proposal by citing the district’s struggle to recruit high school level and specialty teachers, school nurses and bus drivers due to lack of competitive pay.
“The reality is the gap between salaries is getting wider,” Looney said.
“My plea to you is consider to allow us to begin closing in small ways the gap between our district and Franklin Special School District and Metro and other districts. We’re not keeping up. This is independent of the CPI. Basically, our calculations are that we have maintained the standard of living from a decade ago.”
Commissioner Todd Kaestner saw issues in a flat pay raise for all employees.
“Giving everyone the same raise without merit-based differentiating seems demotivating to our best teachers,” Kaestner said.
“You made the comment the state rating system for teachers is flawed, and I believe you. I’m sure you’re right, but I don’t think we just go to lockstep,” he told Looney.
Looney said the district is not losing veteran teachers to districts that pay more, but rather WCS is failing to recruit.
“What we’re struggling with is the recent college graduate with $20,000 student loans, and that’s where we’re not getting them,” he said.
“If we don’t get them in the beginning, we won’t get them. I don’t think we can afford Metro’s salary, but I do think we can close the gap.”
Ultimately, the school board can grant the five percent raise without the commission’s approval, because the proposed budget requests no additional funds from the county funding body.
Anderson also protested the school board’s recent vote to lower the out-of-county tuition rate for WCS employees’ children to attend district schools.
Starting next year, the family rate will lower from just over $4,000 to $2,500. The decision was made in an effort to incentivize teachers.
The $1,500 difference multiplied by approximately 200 children from outside county lines comes to a $300,000 loss, Anderson told Looney.
Looney countered that it wasn’t money lost, but a revenue opportunity lost.
The schools’ requested capital funding, per usual, is the biggest roadblock from the commissioners’ standpoint. Earlier this year, the full commission deferred a decision on capital requests until July when the budget is finalized.
This year, WCS is requesting $11.4 in capital, which the County Education Committee earlier this week recommended cutting to about $6.5 million.
Anderson asked school officials to use the $8.5 million the BEP will fund to cover capital needs.
“I fully understand how this budget works,” Anderson said.
“I’m not prepared to vote for this. We need some help. The taxpayers expect a balanced budget, and we’ll have a balanced budget.”
The mayor requested the schools’ maintenance of effort records at the next meeting. The committee decided to reconvene with school officials at a later date and continue discussion.
Jessica Pace covers Williamson County, Williamson County Schools and the Town of Nolensville for Home Page Media Group. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Jess_NHP.