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Bulloch County Schools budget final unless subject to future adjustment
Superintendent Charles Wilson, board consider salary study
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The Board of Education gave final approval for the $74.5 million Bulloch County Schools operating budget, then offered informal support for a study of the school system's pay scales to gauge whether raises are needed.

Two weeks earlier, board members Anshul Jain and Steve Hein had voted against preliminary budget approval. This followed a discussion in which several members reported hearing from teachers and parents last school year that some classrooms did not have enough of certain assigned books for each student to take one home.

Thursday evening, Superintendent Charles Wilson acknowledged those concerns. But he recommended that the board approve the annual budget because one is required by state law for the fiscal year that begins Tuesday.

"I don't disagree with anything that was said, but in relation to the actual agreement that the budget has to be approved for us to operate July 1, I would ask that we go ahead and approve this budget and then continue that conversation," Wilson said.

Jain asked if the amounts in departmental budgets could be changed later if the overall budget were approved as presented. Two topics for discussion on Thursday's agenda suggested the possible need: the salary study and classroom resources.

A formal adjustment to the budget would be possible later, Wilson said.

"If we feel like we need to spend another million dollars after these conversations, that would be something we would come back to the board and say, after our investigation, we've determined that departmental budgets need to be adjusted, school allocations need to be adjusted," he said.

Chairman Maurice Hill called for a motion to approve the budget. Board member Mike Sparks made it, Hein seconded, and the motion passed 6-1, with Jain voting against it and board member Vernon Littles absent. Board member Dr. LeVon Wilson participated by phone.

Approved budget

The budget contains $102.4 million spending in all funds, but those include the special fund for federal programs, the school nutritional fund, two funds for building projects and capital purchases, and three funds related to sales-tax funded debt repayment, building projects and capital purchases.

In the general fund, revenues are projected at a little more than $74.5 million, up 9 percent from the budgeted projection in fiscal 2014. Meanwhile, expenditures, budgeted at $71.7 million last year, increase to almost $74.4 million for fiscal 2015, and a transfer of $228,714 to help support federal programs in the special revenue budget means a total general fund payout of $74.6 million.
So the general fund shows a projected $79,308 excess of spending over revenue. That's a deficit of about 0.1 percent of total revenue.

"I think in all practical purposes it really is balanced," school system Chief Financial Officer Troy Brown said in an interview.

As the previous meeting, Brown had encouraged board members to take a longer view, providing them a graph in which rising spending and revenues track closely for the next five years, but with revenue remaining a little below expenditures at as the system reduces its current $18.2 million general fund balance.

That reserve is 24 percent of projected spending, exceeding a 15 percent maximum state guideline. State education officials encouraged school districts to maintain larger reserves over the past several lean years, but now the state has begun to restore its formula funding to schools, with the Bulloch County Schools set to receive about $4 million more in fiscal 2015 than in 2014.

So Brown's long-term projections show the school system spending down the general fund balance to $12.3 million, or 14.9 percent of its expenditures, by 2020.

Employee pay

After news broke of improved funding, a paraprofessional and a teacher, backed by others, came to the board in recent months requesting raises for teachers and support personnel. Both groups continued to receive step raises, up to 21 years service, during years when furlough days were imposed and staffing reduced by attrition.

Previously, Superintendent Wilson had emphasized that the school system is restoring a full work calendar, with no furlough days, in 2014-15. But Thursday, he also indicated a willingness to look at how the school system's salaries compare to other employers.

Wilson suggested a methodical approach, which he contrasted to a "random" 1 percent or 2 percent raise. Each 1 percent pay increase for all school system employees would cost about $650,000, including benefits and payroll tax, Brown said.

The local supplement portion of teachers' salaries has been fixed, apparently for 19 years, at 3.75 percent of the 1995 state salary scale. Adjusting this to a percentage of the current state scale would be one logical step, Wilson suggested.

For support staff, he suggested a comparison with local nonschool employers.

"Unless we really do a complete analysis of this, a study, we don't know whether we're paying too much or not enough," Wilson said. "We really don't know, do our custodians make as much as the custodians at, for example, the Wal-Mart distribution center, or Georgia Southern University or the city of Statesboro."

Several board members spoke favorably of this. Some, particularly Mike Herndon, also wanted a comparison to other area school systems. Hein suggested looking first to the needs of the lowest-paid employees.

"Do we have those who are employed in the system who are at or near the poverty level?" Hein said. "I mean, do we start at the bottom and bring the bottom up? I don't know what the answer is, but I'd love to take a look at it."

The school system's fall break was suggested as a possible timeline for a completed study.

"I think it's a great idea, but we need ... a definite timeline," Herndon said.

The board also returned, for more than an hour, to a discussion of how to ensure than all students have enough books or book-alternative materials. No votes were taken on either issue.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.


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