School budget doesn't include teachers' raise

Friday, July 3, 2009

On the last day of their fiscal year, the school board's budget committee approved a balanced budget they will present to the full board at their meeting July 9. No mention was made of the two percent salary increase for teachers that the Marshall County Education Association had asked for in the negotiating session that preceded the meeting.

"We noticed that," said MCEA lead negotiator Kathy Stapleton after the meeting. "You'd think that would be a budgetary concern."

"I guess we just didn't think about it," said director of schools Stan Curtis when he was asked why he hadn't told the committee about the MCEA's request. "It's not in this budget right now."

The board is due to present their budget to the county commission's education committee on July 16. From there it goes to the commission's budget committee.

According to budget director Janet Wiles, next year's budget is about $34,341,617, down "about a million" from last year.

"This looks good," enthused board member Mark Wilkerson. "This is good work."

"Yes," Wiles said. "Maintenance and transportation have really done a good job of cutting back."

"In a year like this, if we can hang on to what we've got - this is a dang good budget," Wilkerson said.

"It's not as good as it sounds," cautioned board member Craig Michael. "We're getting the gift of the stimulus money."

"We need to approve a budget to take to the board on Thursday," said committee chairwoman Kristen Gold. "We can approve this budget if everybody is comfortable with it."

Wilkerson made the motion to approve "pending unforeseen circumstances," which he quantified as "more than a two percent change."

"That's over $700,000," Michael pointed out. "That's a big number. Expenses exceeded revenue by a million last year; it only matches this year because of cutting capital outlay and receiving the stimulus money. Two years from now we'll have a $600,000 deficit when the stimulus money goes away."

Nevertheless, board member Todd Tietgens seconded the motion.

In a voice vote, Michael and Dee Dee Owens opposed approving the budget for presentation to the board, but Gold, Wilkerson, and Tietgens were in favor, and the motion carried.

"I wasn't finished with discussion," complained Michael, "But I'll save it for the board meeting."

In a telephone interview the next day, Michael said, "I was disappointed that the majority of the committee members did not question the details of the budget - I think the taxpayers deserve a more detailed enquiry. I remain hopeful the full board will get more involved."

Michael said that the total amount of the budget was "pretty close to maintenance of effort," which the county is required to fund, and repeated, "It's the details that have got to be questioned."

At the end of the meeting, Gold summarized the information the committee wanted from Curtis: a salary schedule for newly hired non-certified personnel, an updated organizational chart, and a "head count" of employees for next year, broken down by school, by class, and by certified/non-certified. Curtis had already assured the budget committee that the student-teacher ratio has not changed for the upcoming year.