Baldwin: Funding for school system not enough

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Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer

When County Manager Derek Roland presented his proposed budget to the board of commissioners earlier this month, he asked for a tax increase that specifically generates more than $1 million in recurring revenue directly for the school system. Based on the current tax collection rate in Macon County, the proposed tax increase would generate an additional $1,050,000 in revenues for services within the county. According to Roland, this amount is needed to cover increased funding for Operations ($500,000) Technology ($300,000), and Annual Capital Outlay ($250,000), in the School System’s budget. 

Despite Roland’s request, the Macon County School System said it’s not enough and due to funding cuts on the state level, they still fall short of balancing their budget and meeting the needs of students. 

Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin spoke to commissioners on May 21 during a budget work session, pleading for additional funding. According to Baldwin, based on anticipated classroom numbers, four schools in the county – Cartoogechaye, East Franklin, Highlands School and South Macon Elementary – will need additional K-3 classrooms. Last year, Baldwin stated that the school system gained 50 new kindergartners throughout the county’s elementary schools.

“Our concern with the recommended budget is that with the new class size legislation, we anticipate needing to add four K-3 classrooms next year,” said Baldwin. “We anticipate adding a kindergarten teacher at Cartoogechaye and Highlands School, a first grade teacher at East Franklin, and a first and second grade teacher at South Macon.”

The Board of Education’s original operational budget request to commissioners was $957,454 over last year’s allocation. Last year’s allocation included a $500,000 increase, but not from recurring funds, therefore Roland proposed making the $500,000 recurring in the budget this fiscal year. 

Without additional funding from the county, Dr. Baldwin pointed out several shortfalls in the school district’s budget along with potential budget impacts:

– Does not fully fund teacher assistants. State mandated class size reductions will require 3-4 new K-3 classrooms. Teacher assistants will not be provided for these classrooms

– Does not fund STEM coordinator. Great strides have been made in improving STEM in Macon County due in large part to a STEM coordinator.  The Golden Leaf Grant requires that this position continue to be funded.

– Does not fund Business Advisory Council request. The BAC recommends improving current STEM education through adding a STEM teacher at MVI and another at MMS.

– Does not fully fund Macon Early College. With the improvement of Macon County’s economic Tier 1 to Tier 2 status, the state has recommended reducing the MCS allotment for MEC by $75,000.

– Does not fully fund 2% teacher and teachers’ assistants’ supplement. Each year the 2% local supplement increases along with the state salary schedule.  This increase is not funded in the recommended budget.

– Does not provide bonuses for school system custodial and clerical employees.

– The recommended budget does not include any provisions associated with increased costs associated with doing business.  Without these provisions the school system will be forced to utilize $170,000 of fund balance to maintain its current level of service.  Overall costs are anticipated to increase for fiscal year 2020-21. 

Before the budget is final, the board of commissioners will hold a public hearing to get input from the community on changes to the budget. The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Commissioners will be held on Tuesday, June 11, at 6 p.m. at the Macon County courthouse.

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