Elizabethton Board of Education says budget is responsible yet progressive

Published 8:58 am Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Raises for employees, increases in operating allocation from the city, and additional funding for special education programs and a Breakfast in the Classroom program are among some of the highlights of the Elizabethton City Schools budget for 2016-17, which passed unanimously Tuesday night. Dental and medical insurance rates are budgeted at an increase, but the school system pays these for full-time employees.

All changes and the final budget will have to be approved by City Council.

Elizabethton City Schools (ECS) ranks 6th in the Upper East Tennessee region for per pupil expenditure. Director of Schools Dr. Corey Gardenhour said that ranking is based on a ratio of how much money the school system receives per student in comparison to how much is spent on each student. In Elizabethton, that ratio is about two percent higher than the state average.

“Even though our budget is lean, we spend it on the kids,” he said.

Data in the state report card shows that while Elizabethton ranks sixth, spending almost exactly what it receives per student on each student, its ACT test scores are almost exactly the same as Greeneville City Schools, which spends 14 percent more per student.

Gardenhour commended Beth Wilson, director of business and fiscal management, for clearly documenting and maintaining finance records in a comprehensible way that enables administrators to make responsible decisions.

“We have really kept our eye on making sure that we’re in good financial shape throughout all the projects that we’ve had, and she’s definitely helped us move in that direction and made sure that we’re being conservative, but also when the time comes, like when our track proposal came forward and we had the money to do that, that we tried to work and make that happen. So I think we have a vision, but we also are trying to be practical about where we are. We want to make sure we’re being good stewards, but also moving the school system forward.”

The General Fund is estimated at $21,881,399, almost nine percent less than this past school year. The Federal Projects Fund is estimated at $1,522,965, almost two percent less than last year. The School Nutrition Program funding is estimated at a 5.44 percent increase at $990,500, which reflects the addition of the Breakfast in the Classroom program.

State funding comprises 65 percent of the system’s budget, while local funding comprises 35 percent. Board Member Grover May said the amount of funding locally is less than surrounding counties, some of which have 50 to 60 percent local funding.

“We heavily rely on state funds,” he said, adding that more residents living in the area would increase the tax base and thereby increase funding to schools.

The greatest spending out of all funds is just over $10 million for regular instructional programs. The next highest expenses are $2.2 million for maintenance and operation, $1.7 million for special education programs, $1.4 million for school administration, and $1 million for other student support.

A three percent raise was included in the budget for all qualifying certified and classified positions. Board Member Susan Peters said Governor Bill Haslam has been pushing for a four percent raise, but that it doesn’t seem that will be taking place this year. She was pleased to see the school system take initiative to demonstrate the value of its employees.

Insurance premiums are predicted to increase in January by six percent for medical and five percent for dental, but the board will continue to pay 100 percent of individual medical premiums for full-time employees.

The City Council has indicated it will allocate $68,000 to the schools for maintenance and technology services. This will help cover the cost of a new school bus, a new identification program for school visitors and a renovation project at T.A. Dugger to accommodate more students.

Gardenhour said the schools will continue to focus on increasing enrollment, and he believes the high school will be able to accommodate 100 students next year as well as 30 more students at the junior high school.

The budget includes allocations for a new drama teacher position at the high school as well as two assistant principal positions. Gardenhour said one of those will work full-time at Harold McCormick Elementary, and the other will work full-time between East Side and West Side Elementary Schools.

Thanks to the foresight and hard work of Director of Special Education Dr. Myra Newman in applying for grants, the special education program will receive $70,000 in grant funding.

The budget will go before the City Council for passage as part of the City Budget for fiscal year 2016-17.