Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin presented board members with three draft budget proposals last Wednesday during a budget work session for the 2017-18 school year. While each budget varies in terms of amounts and what expenditures they include, they all had one thing in common: the need to dip into Macon County Schools fund balance.

Dr. Baldwin’s three budget scenarios were all drafted based on a $7.3 million request from county commissioners for current expenses. This year, while Macon County Schools requested $7.3 million, they were allotted $7.1 million from county commissioners. School officials based the 2017-2018 on the initial funding request of $7.3 million.

Draft proposal #1 includes an allocation of $1.2 million from the school system’s fund balance in addition to the $7.3 million being requested from county commissioners. That $1.2 million would fund six teaching positions that will likely be mandated by law at the beginning of the school year due to a classroom size cap, a projected five percent salary increase for teachers, which is what is being proposed in the state legislature right now, a two percent increase to utilities cost and funding for two positions that could potentially be eliminated due to funding cuts to Title II on the federal level.

Draft proposal #2 does not include the six positions that would be required due to the cap legislation, but does however include the projected salary increases on the state level. Draft #2 also takes into account nearly $400,000 in principal requests for new positions at individual schools. Under draft #2, the school system would have to allocate $1.1 million from the fund balance to balance the budget.

Draft proposal #3 is the “status quo” budget and would leave funding at the current year’s level. The budget does not include the six teaching positions mandated by the state, but does however include the 5 percent teaching salary increase. This proposal would require $700,092 from the fund balance, which is about how much was used to balance the current year’s budget.

Despite all of the proposed budget scenarios relying on the fund balance, the actual amount available in the district’s fund balance isn’t clear.

“At this point in the year it is hard to determine because we are moving expenses and salaries in order to utilize all state funds that are required to be ‘zeroed’ out at June 30,” said Macon County Schools finance Director Angie Cook. “We ended FY 2016 with $2,001,752 million in our total fund balance and we appropriated $726,850 of the undesignated fund balance in this year’s budget.”

Based on the fund balance at the end of last year and what was designated for budget purposes specifically this year, and operating under the assumption that the district has no revenue generated sources to build the fund balance, the available fund balance would be $1,274,902 today. Of the $1.2 million potentially in the fund balance, a portion of those funds are designated for specific programs and can’t be used for general operating expenses.

Cook said the district doesn’t plan to add to the fund balance this year, and ideally don’t want to see it zeroed out to balance the budget either.

The Board of Education debated between the draft proposals for most of last Wednesday’s budget meeting. Macon County School Board Chair Jim Breedlove and board member Fred Goldsmith originally said they would like to see a true and accurate figure requested to county commissioners. Rather than request $7.3 million and propose spending $1.2 million in fund balance, both Goldsmith and Breedlove originally said they would like to see the board request [$8.5 million] from the county, especially since the $1.2 million in fund balance would be going to fund recurring costs, with nonrecurring dollars, which would present a major problem in budget sustainability next budget year.

During the discussion, Dr. Baldwin requested a short recess to “think about the proposals.” After the recess and talking with Breedlove outside of the meeting, Breedlove reconvened the meeting and made the motion to approve Dr. Baldwin draft #1 proposal.

Despite not having the $1.2 million needed to make draft proposal #1 work, the school board unanimously approved proposal #1 and will send that request to county commissioners.

The Macon County School Board is scheduled to present their budget request to the county next week.

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