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Schools payroll costs to grow by $2.3M in 2015
CFO: Step raises for most employees were there all along
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A fiscal year 2015 budget that, if adopted, will become the Bulloch County Schools’ first formally balanced budget in six years contains $2.3 million in increased spending for salaries and benefits.
That includes some new hiring, and it doesn’t mean there will be any additional raises. But it does, as Chief Financial Officer Troy Brown pointed out in his presentation Thursday to the Board of Education, include $559,000 for periodic raises that school employees, short of 21 years of service, have been receiving all along.
“A lot of times people think that that’s just the teachers, that teachers are the only ones that see a step increase, and for the certified person, the state does call it ‘step,’ but it’s not only our certified employees that get a step, or an experience increase, it’s also our noncertified,” Brown said.
“Certified” employees are those, such as teachers and principals, whose jobs require a state certificate. They receive step increases both for experience and levels of certification, which are based on education requirements.
A chart on the Georgia Department of Education website shows that teachers receive their first experience increase their third year, followed by annual increases through the eighth year. After that, the steps occur every two years, but stop at 21 years. The salary of a beginning teacher increases by $4,400 to $4,600 the first five years, Brown told the board.
Unlike the state-mandated, and mostly state-funded, teacher steps, the experience increases for noncertified school personnel are a local practice, established by the Board of Education. These occur annually, Brown said.
“That gets afforded to all of our employees,” he said. “Bus drivers, custodians, parapros, school fund service — all of them are on a scale that receives an experience step increase every year.”
When board member Steve Hein asked what the amount is, Brown said it varies depending on the job.
Like the teacher step raises, those for noncertified personnel also end after 21 years’ experience. The local board, according to Brown, followed the state’s example on this years ago.
“Why did the state do that decades ago? Probably as a cost containment measure,” he said.
The cutoff means that employees past the 21-year mark did not get any raises during the years when no cost-of-living raise was issued.
After Brown gave a preliminary report in March projecting a $4 million restoration of state funding to the Bulloch schools this year, employees began approaching the board with requests that some of the money go into raises. A paraprofessional who spoke to the board April 10 said she did not recall when she last received a raise, but she also said she had been working in the school system at least 24 years.
Step raises have been counteracted by unpaid furlough days the board implemented the past five years. The Bulloch schools furloughed employees five days in 2012-13, but only two days in the current year. The new budget will eliminate furlough days, restoring employees to full salary.
The $4 million state funding restoration was part of a $5.7 million overall revenue increase in the projected general fund budget Brown presented Thursday. Instead of the current year’s $68.8 million budgeted revenue, $74.5 million is projected for fiscal year 2015, which will begin this July 1.
Brown’s estimates also assume a 4.07 percent increase in sales tax revenue, based on a state projection. A projection of 2.26 percent growth in property tax revenue reflects the three-year average growth in Bulloch County’s tax digest. That could be revised by a preliminary report of the actual digest expected May 9.
New hires
The 2015 budget still under discussion projects $74.5 million in spending, up from $71.3 million budgeted in the current year.
Spending for salaries and benefits makes up more than two-thirds of the $3.2 million increase. In salaries, this includes the $559,000 for step increases, $467,000 for replacing the two furlough days with paid days, and $490,568 for new hires and expanding some part-time jobs to full-time.
The proposed new employees include a math director, a science director and a technology coordinator in the central office and – with state funding due from enrollment growth – two teachers and two paraprofessionals. Assistant principals’ jobs at the Nevils, Portal and Stilson elementary schools will be expanded from half-time to full-time, and a half-time assistant principal position will be added at Langston Chapel Elementary.
Increased benefits costs include $154,000 for the new jobs, $80,000 linked to step increases and $69,000 to the eliminated furlough days, $90,000 for additional employees signing up for health insurance and $431,000 for increased teacher retirement premiums.
Departmental budget requests account for other spending increases. Discussions are still underway, and some requests may be reduced, Brown said.
Board members asked him how long it had been since he presented a balanced budget.
The last budget that showed balanced revenue and spending when adopted was 2009’s. However, in 2011 unexpected federal stimulus funds caused actual revenue to exceed spending by $4.9 million, Brown told the newspaper Friday.
The other years brought deficits, but the school system maintained a large balance in its general fund accounts, and some deficits have been lower than predicted.
A comparison sheet Brown gave the board shows that this year’s spending has been lower than projected and revenues higher. With its June 30 end approaching, fiscal year 2014 is trending toward a $2.56 million deficit, about $1 million less than projected. That will leave the school system with an $18.2 million fund balance.
Equaling roughly 24 percent of next year’s projected spending, that exceeds the state’s longstanding guideline of a 15 percent maximum balance. But since the 2008 recession, state officials have recommended that school systems maintain larger reserves.
The board is slated to tentatively approve a budget May 22 for final adoption June 12. No increase in tax rates is involved.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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