Carolyn L. Higgins – Contributing Writer

It seems like a long road since the Macon County Board of Education first held a work session/special called meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8, to discuss 2018-2019 budget options. After months of work sessions, public forums and negotiations with Macon County Commissioners and the county manager, the Macon County Board of Education met Monday morning, July 17, to discuss capital outlay priorities and to crunch numbers before a final approval next week. 

The meeting included Dr. Chris Baldwin, superintendent of Macon County Schools, Board Chairman Jim Breedlove, fellow board members, Commissioner Gary Shields who serves as a liaison to the school board, several principals and leadership team members.

Baldwin, board members, parents, teachers, staff and community groups had championed efforts to increase funding to Macon County Schools. Their diligence netted Macon County Schools an increase of $1,050,000 over the 2017-2018 operating budget of $7.1 million. Special efforts by Commissioners Ronnie Beale, Shields and Karl Gillespie were also instrumental in acquiring these funds.  

Following the recent contribution by the county of $550,000 to Macon County schools for capital outlay and another $600,000 for technology, the task of extracting critical needs from a requested budget outlay of $3,234,898 meant tough decisions had to be made.   

“What we have discussed in great detail is . . . looking at monies . . . the commissioners gave us, trying to prioritize and decide what we thought were the things we need to address first that best suit and best give protection for our students.” said Breedlove. “They are all important. Also as we look at these things, in the back of our mind, we still have some security thoughts going through our head in terms of our final decision today.”

“Our original request for security was a little over a $1,000,000,” said Baldwin. “When we factor in the structural requests as well as the technology requests such as cameras, alarm systems and that sort of thing; we’ve identified already $250,000. We’re probably going to have to keep in mind that will probably have to preface some of our regular capital outlay.”

All along, Baldwin has stressed the challenge. Although the recent injection allows the BOE to sustain without cuts, it is only maintaining the current levels.   

“We try to keep safety at the forefront,” said Baldwin. “After that, we still have several issues at Macon Middle School just with regard to the age of that facility with windows, lighting, carpeting, and drainage issues that need to be addressed. After that comes technology for instruction [all schools] such as active boards.”

Other evaluation criteria for the tough decision process included age, condition, whether purchased new or used, maintenance and/or repair history, how many “Band-Aids” had been applied, if something was a hazard, whether it could pass inspection by county or state officials, ADA [Americans With Disabilities Act] compliance, critical immediate needs and more.

At the conclusion, $258,909 was decided for capital outlay in the categories of renovation/construction, technology, furniture, machines, equipment and vehicles (that included replacing the large activity bus that was recently destroyed by fire and purchasing an additional smaller activity bus).

Under renovation and security specific to security and safety, the board has allotted $305,500 that includes perimeter fencing, classroom phone system, alarm system, access control doors, security cameras and controlled access at various schools.

“The county allotted $250,000 for safety and security, and they allotted $300,000 to be used for other capital needs,” said Baldwin.  We are using some of that money for safety and security, and that cost will probably go up.”

The board may have some cushions on the actuals, and it is quite likely the technology needs will increase.  Budgets are dynamic, and a good model is a comparison to home budgets as pointed out by board member Fred Goldsmith.

“Just like at home – somebody surprises you and gives you a nice big check,” said Goldsmith. “And boy you think you’ve got all this, but invariably, something always happens. A few days later, your air conditioner goes out, or you have a car repair you weren’t counting on. That’s what this is on a major scale.”

The full 2018-2019 Capital Outlay Requests budget and the proposed expenditures are available at the Macon County Schools administrative offices. The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Macon County Board of Education will be held on Monday, July 23, beginning at 6 p.m. in the board room of the Macon County Schools administrative offices.