BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Early budget projections for the Greene County School System indicate that the system will have an additional $900,000 in revenues this year as the result of increases in the state Basic Education Program (BEP) funding.
The Greene County Board of Education held a workshop to study the early budget estimates on Monday, just prior to the board's April meeting.
The Greeneville Sun did not receive a public notice of the meeting from the school system, apparently by error, and thus did not attend it.
But the newspaper conducted followup interviews with Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk, board members, and Budget Director Mary Lou Woolsey.
According to documents provided by Kirk, the state's earliest projection of BEP funding is about $900,000 above the 2012-2013 funding of $31.36 million.
BEP is the state formula used to determine how much revenue the state will provide the school system each year, as well as the minimum revenue that local government should provide as a match.
State BEP funding makes up the huge bulk of the system's $45 million budget.
The state divides funding between all school systems based on average daily membership (ADM), or the average number of students that attend on a daily basis.
As systems continue to report each month's ADM through the end of the school year, the state will make changes and send several revisions to the BEP funding estimates.
Woolsey said that some of the additional revenue estimated in this early BEP forumla is naturally consumed by regular increases in various budget items, such as increases for health insurance and step and degree pay increases, as well as for items such as electricity and diesel fuel.
So far, however, there is still a remaining $421,500 to be budgeted, Kirk said.
She provided a document detailing several proposals for the use of that funding, with her first priority going to bonuses for school personnel.
"The governor's budget included an amount equal to a 1.5 percent increase for certified staff," she wrote in the document provided to board members.
"As you are aware, this amount does not cover a 1.5 percent increase for all staff. First of all, it is based on the BEP salary amount, and secondly, we have positions in addition to the BEP.
"Another factor is the action the state board took on Friday [April 19]. It is anticipated that the state salary schedule will be frozen at this year's rate.
"This has implications for systems adding to the salary schedule. I would recommend a bonus for teachers this year (since the governor's budget assumes some salary increase from this funding) and then investigating and developing a differentiated pay plan.
"This way the funds from the bonus could be used for the new salary schedule required next year that incorporates a differentiated plan."
Kirk explained that the system will have to form this "differentiated plan" as a new salary schedule in the coming year. This new schedule will be based on teacher performance, rather than only years served or degrees obtained.
"We need time to research good models for differentiated pay as well as gain input from teachers," Kirk explained. "We want the plan to incentivize our values and goals and to be something the teachers view as beneficial."
Meanwhile, she estimated the cost for the proposed 1 percent bonus at $250,000.
Other proposals for areas where such funding may be needed included, in no particular order, additional personnel, safety-related capital needs, technology and benchmark testing.
Potential needs for additional personnel, according to Kirk's document, include the following at an estimated $45,235 per position:
* additional English/Math teacher(s) as needed for remediation purposes and for added enrollment;
* an additional counselor; and,
* additional Special Education personnel.
Safety-related capital needs included those recommended by the school system's Education Safety Committee, composed of three county commissioners and three board members.
These needs include the following, in order of priority:
* finishing the remaining safety entrances at Nolachuckey and Glenwood Elementary schools, and at the T.H. McNeese Educational Center, for an estimated total of $53,000;
* providing two-way radios and earbuds for all staff at an estimated $20,000 to $25,000;
* placing magnetic locks on all safety entrance doors at an estimated cost of $24,000;
* placing cameras at all safety entrances;
* securing classroom doors; and,
* completing camera systems.
The board also had on the agenda to discuss progress on numerous ongoing capital projects. According to Kirk, bids for these projects seem to be coming in right at estimates.
Any savings on the ongoing capital projects, in addition to any year-end savings and next year's funds available for capital projects, would likely go to these suggested safety improvements, she said.
Finally, Kirk proposed possibly adding the system's annual $125,000 in computer lab replacements back into the budget, rather than paying for it out of any year-end savings, and considering $45,000 for benchmark testing in grades 3-8.
This testing, she said, could allow the system to more accurately judge where students are and what subjects need additional focus prior to state-level testing.
In the coming year, however, she said that this testing will likely be paid for out of Race to the Top funds.
In contrast to this additional state funding, however, Woolsey is projecting $4,000 less in local revenue, with everything flat against the current year's receipts except for investment income, which continues to decline.
According to documents Kirk provided, the 2012-2013 year began with $12.2 million budgeted from local revenue.
The school system has since lowered that estimate for the year to a flat $12 million.
The state requirement for what is called "Maintenance of Effort" (not spending less in local money than in the previous year) will require the system to put the anticipated $4,000 into the operational school budget as revenue, even though it may need to come from a fund balance, Kirk said.
The early version of the 2013-2014 BEP formula that Kirk provided the board on Monday calls for a total of $12.6 million in local revenue.
The county typically makes up the difference between the projected amount of local revenues going into the school system ($12 million) and the amount the BEP formula mandates ($12.6 million) by using what funding they provide for Education Debt Service.
In final business at the workshop, the board heard from board member Deborah Johnson, who asked to discuss the taking of board minutes.
"I just feel like we don't keep detailed minutes and then we don't keep minutes from the committees and the workshops," Johnson explained in a telephone interview with the Sun.
"We spend a lot of time in heated discussion about what was said during those times, but if we kept minutes, we could just go back to that."
Johnson and Kirk both said the board reached a compromise that minutes of board meetings would not be detailed beyond votes taken, discussion topics and who brought up the topic in committee meetings and board meetings.
However, the need for minutes in workshops remains a matter of division between board members, Johnson and board member Kathy Austin said.
Austin said she questioned why it would be a problem to have minutes taken at workshops, and she has also noted that state law seems to indicate that all board meetings should have minutes.
Kirk said that her review of Roberts Rules of Order indicates minutes are not necessary for workshops, as minutes are supposed to reflect what actions are taken. No action may legally be taken in a workshop.
Kirk said, however, that she agreed to form an agenda for workshops and include a "follow up" section to that agenda, in which she will note any matters on which the board says follow-up is needed, and who will do it.
The director also said that minutes are now being taken at committee meetings.