School Board budget committee looks ahead

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The School Board's budget committee got their first look at the schools' lists of needs for next year at their meeting last Thursday.

The whole list totals $2.5 million, but has not yet been prioritized. Some of the items on the list have already been included in this year's budget.

Committee chairwoman Kristen Gold reminded the group that next year's budget might not include any money for items on the "needs lists." She pointed out that this year the school system's expenditures exceed revenues, but fortunately they had excess fund balance that is being spent to make up the difference.

"If things stay the same next year, we won't have the $1.7 million from the fund balance," she said. "It's critical that Dr. Curtis work with the departments to cut costs and save where we can. Next year is going to be the year it catches us."

"Frankly, I see a huge decrease in (state) funding," Dr. Stan Curtis agreed. "That was a huge hit in November (declining sales tax revenues). We'll get the first Basic Education Program funds estimate in April and I feel they'll be real conservative.

"By April we will know the worst thing that can happen and can plan from there," he added.

"We'd be doing ourselves a dis-service if we didn't prepare for doom and gloom," said Gold.

"What about the $1.1 million in cost reductions we targeted for this year?" asked Michael. "Is there anything to report?"

Curtis replied that they were saving money by not having an attendance supervisor on the payroll, and that the transportation and electricity costs had gone down due to falling oil prices. He said there was money in the budget for professional development, but that he was putting a moratorium on traveling to conferences for while.

"It doesn't look good at this time when a lot of people are hurting," said Curtis.

"Good call," exclaimed Michael.

The committee looked at the three-page needs list line by line, trying to separate the "must-have" from the "nice-to-have."

The replacement of the fire alarm system at Marshall Elementary School for $12,000 is essential because, Curtis reported, the Fire Department has been going to MES so often on false alarms that they have said they will start charging.

Some of the schools' kitchen equipment is so old that it can't be repaired any more. This is what leads Westhills Elementary, Forrest, and Cornersville to ask for new fryers ($15,000 each). Forrest and Cornersville need $40,000 dishwashers, as well.

$200,000 for air conditioning the gym at Lewisburg Middle School and $12,000 for camera systems at each school are more debatable expenditures.

"In many cases, the money needs to be spent, " said committee member Craig Michael, "But it does not affect the classroom. We asked for needs from our leaders and we get a list that has nothing to do with what's going on in the classroom.

"I've seen this in many different businesses," he continued. "People focus on everything but the core purpose."

"Can't we get an academic wish-list?" asked Gold.

"Let me go back to the principals in another directive," said Curtis. "I'll ask for needs from an instructional/school improvement/learning point-of-view. We've got to think outside of the box to service our children and teachers."

"We've got to find a way to get classroom teachers more involved in this process," said Michael. "There's such a gap between their day-to-day reality and what the Board does."

Kathy Stapleton, the Marshall County Education Association's lead negotiator, was in the audience.

"I think understanding the budget process gives us a better understanding. It's important that we are educated on the process," said Stapleton. The MCEA is due to hold another negotiating session before the school board meeting Thursday night.