As the Bulloch County Board of Education begins to look at its budget for 2017-18, assigning money based on “local values” to even out and increase resources among the 15 schools is again under consideration.
So are possible raises to all employees, beyond the 2 percent raise Gov. Nathan Deal has recommended for teachers.
“It’s there for our consideration. We don’t know what the price tag on all this discussion is at this point,” Superintendent Charles Wilson told board members during their regular work session Thursday evening.
Chief Financial Officer Troy Brown provided rough cost estimates for the local spending options during the hour-long discussion. But until state funding amounts are certain, administrators don’t know exactly what demand added spending could place on local taxes.
For two years the school system has been spending more than it receives in local revenue and state funding, reducing a general fund balance that had peaked around $19 million. The general fund budget for the current fiscal year, which opened July 1 with an estimated $16.4 million balance, projected an ending balance to $12.6 million. Total spending, through June 30, is budgeted at $86 million.
Funding for local values, such as more counselors and specialty teachers than the state allots, was suggested by Brown and Wilson in 2015. But the option the board ultimately approved provided additional funding to all the schools these last two years without applying a “local values” formula.
Instead, the added local funding, which principals had discretion to spend based on their schools’ priorities, was called “austerity funding,” meant to make up for previous cuts in per-student funding by the state. With the state moving beyond austerity, Bulloch County school officials will also leave this terminology behind and refer instead to a “base formula” for funding the schools and “local values” as an added layer on top, Brown advised the board last week.
Inequities in per-student funding among the schools persist. Some of the differences are due to the higher costs of operating smaller schools and to programs for special-needs students being concentrated at certain schools, officials have said in the past.
Brown’s comparison based on October 2016 full-time equivalent, or FTE, enrollment shows current-year spending among the nine elementary schools ranging from a low of $6,135 at Brooklet Elementary to a high of $8,902 at Mattie Lively. Spending amounts to $5,180 per student at Southeast Bulloch Middle School, $5,776 at Langston Chapel Middle School and $6,293 at William James Middle School.
Portal Middle High School’s per-student cost, $8,368, is lower than Mattie Lively Elementary School’s but substantially higher than any of the other high schools’ or middle schools’. Southeast Bulloch High is spending $5,557 per student and Statesboro High School $5,433, according to the information in Brown’s slideshow.
“What we would like to do here is provide an equitable method for how we allocate those dollars,” he said.
Unless local values money is added, overall funding to the schools will decrease by $1.8 million for 2017-18, Brown said. This is after $2.3 million in local money went to the so-called austerity funding this year.
The possible local values Wilson and Brown suggested would provide the schools more money than the state assigns in seven categories, including some things the state doesn’t fund at all. The suggestions include funding for additional counselors; more subject specialists such as art, music and physical education teachers; teachers for gifted students; and professional development programs for teachers and staff. Other local values would offer more money for extracurricular programs, which are locally funded anyway, and a special allocation to each school based on its number of economically disadvantaged students.
What the additional money would actually be used for would again be decided at each school, with the board only providing the funding based on these values, not requiring that it be spent that way.
The 2 percent raise the governor has recommended for school employees with teaching certificates will not cost local taxpayers anything, because the state is expected to fund it completely, Brown said.
However, in the past the Bulloch County Board of Education has passed along state-funded teacher raises to support personnel, such as custodians, cooks and paraprofessionals, at local expense. The projected cost to the general fund of extending the 2 percent raise is $210,000.
Additionally, Wilson wants the board to “look at” funding a continuing raise of 1 percent or 2 percent on top of broadening the state raise to include all employees, Brown said.
“As a district, our teachers and employees haven’t seen a perpetual increase in their base salaries in a while,” Wilson told board members.
He called it “perpetual” because it would continue, in contrast to a 3 percent one-time stipend the board provided all employees in the budget for the current school year. A 1 percent stipend recently ordered as a reward for successfully completing the AdvancED accreditation review was also one-time.
Two years ago, the board provided a 5 percent pay raise to support personnel without teaching certificates and an increase averaging 1.35 percent in local supplements to teachers. But there had been no local raises from 2010 through 2015, although employees did get incremental step increases for years of experience, Brown noted.
Last year’s 3 percent stipend made use of an increase in state funding that Deal requested, but did not specifically allocate, for teacher raises.
“A lot of the districts around us did go ahead and make it a perpetual-type increase,” Wilson told the board last week.
But so far he has not made any recommendation, only provided options. The board is slated to receive additional budget information at its April 13 regular meeting and is planning a special budgeting work session for Saturday morning, April 22.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.