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Bulloch Schools expect to spend $10 million more next fiscal year
Revenue will more than cover $2,000 state teacher raise, $2 an hour local raise for other personnel
W Charles Wilson
Superintendent Charles Wilson

Top administrators are proposing a fiscal 2023 Bulloch County Schools general fund budget with more than $10 million in increased spending, or 10.4% more than the current year’s projected total spending of almost $97.3 million.

The budget that Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Troy Brown presented Thursday evening to the Board of Education calls for roughly $107.4 million in expenditures for the new fiscal year, which will begin July 1.

In addition to the state-mandated $2,000 across-the-board pay raise for teachers, which will amount to about $1.57 million a year in Bulloch County and is funded by the state, the spending projection includes, as a local initiative, a $2-an-hour raise for all non-certified regular employees. These include custodians, maintenance workers, school bus drivers, monitors and mechanics, food service personnel and classroom paraprofessionals.

The $2 hourly rate raise is expected to cost about $1.13 million. Because benefits are tied to salaries, the teacher and support personnel raises together are also projected to add $542,333 in benefit costs. Additionally, salary step increases, budgeted every year for additional years of experience, are projected to amount to $680,100. The projected costs for increased salaries and benefits add up to more than $3.9 million.

“When we look at inflation – the prices at the pump, the prices at the grocery store – that’s what we’re suggesting to you,” Brown told the board.

He was referring specifically to the $2-an-hour raise, since funding it is entirely a local decision. Brown and Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson had discussed other options for increasing pay for non-certified employees, including various percentage raises. But they decided on the simple dollar amount as providing a significant boost to those who need it most, Brown said.

“That really helps those lower scales also, since … we’ve got some that are down at $10.50 (an hour), which is our (bus) monitors, we’ve got our school nutrition, which is in the mid-to-high $10 range,” Brown said. “Our parapros, they start out in the $11 range, base salary. Years of experience then gives them additional pay on top of that.”

But help-wanted signs at businesses around Statesboro, some offering “$14, $15 or $16 an hour” suggest that the school system’s salaries “are just not keeping up,” he said.

Wilson told the board he wants to have a salary study done next year that could indicate where further adjustments are needed.

 

Other new spending

Proposals for hiring people to 14 new jobs with the school system, from teachers and a program administrator to the school system’s first two on-staff building painters, also add $713,250 in projected spending. That doesn’t count any positions that principals might add with discretionary funds at the school level, and the individual schools are projected to receive a $594,379 boost in state Quality Basic Education funding and “local values” discretionary funding.

Increased costs budgeted through the school system’s various administrative departments are also expected to add a little over $1 million to the spending total.

But if the board approves the suggested budget with no changes and fiscal 2023 spending matches the projected $107.4 million, revenue would exceed spending by almost $6.65 million.

 

Record fund balance

So nothing here suggests any sort of local tax rate increase, especially since the school system’s accounts are flush with record amounts of cash because of federal stimulus and “rescue” funding over the past two years.

Coming after the more than $36 million allotted to the school system under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act of 2020 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the projected $6.65 million revenue surplus would boost the Bulloch County Schools’ general fund balance to around $58.9 million by the time the new fiscal  year ends on June 30, 2023. That amounts to having roughly 55% of the cash needed to cover anoher year’s spending already in the bank.

Although the state has long given leeway on this, Georgia school systems’ operating fund balances were traditionally capped at 15% of annual expenditures. The Bulloch County district was carrying a balance of a little over 20% as of 2020.

 

Five-year plan

So, Brown and Superintendent of Wilson propose to have the school system begin spending the more than $50 million balance down under a five-year plan that extends through fiscal 2027.

Meanwhile, the money will be needed to address students’ learning shortfalls and increased social and emotional challenges seen because of the pandemic, Wilson says.

“We know what’s happened to our students, our children, and we’re still in the process, but we now have a good understanding of what their needs are, both socially and emotionally and academically,” he said in a phone interview Monday.

“This is not a one -year problem nor a two-year problem,” Wilson continued. “It’s at a minimum a five-year problem in terms of the challenges that everybody’s facing. Well, the responsible thing to do is to look it as a five-year problem and to apply the resources that we have through a five-year, or more, solution, which is what we’re doing.”

In addition to funding new programs aimed at addressing those needs, last year’s budget shifted some salaries and benefits to special funds that received the COVID-related funds. The suggested new budget will shift $3.2 million in salaries and funded by the “CARES 2” portion of the money back to the general fund, while using all of the final phase of the funding by June 30, 2023.

The board has taken no votes on the proposed budget at this point.  Brown and Wilson intend to present it, with any changes, for tentative approval May 12 and to request final approval at the June 9 board meeting.

 

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