Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel assured county commissioners students would be served within state regulations despite the reduction of eight teaching positions.
McDaniel, along with Bradley County Board of Education vice chairman Nicholas Lillios, addressed the full Commission concerning the budget for the first time since the board passed its financial document last Wednesday.
“The objective of our budget is to provide every child in the Bradley County schools with the best possible education opportunities and maximize the use of our available resources,” McDaniel said.
He specified the addition of a special education bus with a mechanical lift and an investment in technology infrastructure are embedded in the new budget.
McDaniel also explained the elimination of the teaching positions which reached a total of eight after the school board requested five more positions not be filled over the three recommended by McDaniel.
“They will be absorbed by attrition and retirement,” he said.
“The challenges to the budget were the economy, slow growth in sales tax and property tax, retirement costs continue to rise, medical costs for our employees continue to rise, and the question of student attendance,” McDaniel said.
The director said the system wanted to invest in the “people who are the greatest resource in Bradley County schools. They are the largest part of this budget.”
He summarized saying the budget was a fiscally conservative one and “does not require a tax increase.”
McDaniel did point out to the commissioners what would happen to the $250,000 that would be saved from the five positions that will not be filled.
The funds will go to “restricted for long-term capital projects,” but will not be assigned to that line item until the end of the budget year.
“The equities account is actually cash-in hand,” Lillios explained. “The monies that would be created from the five teaching positions would be accumulating through the year and that’s why it is not showing up on that line item,” Lillios explained.
Lillios also thanked the Commission for “being patient with our budget process.”
“It’s one of those growing years with some changes we were trying to make,” he said. “I appreciate everybody giving us a little extra time to work out our ideas.”
McDaniel further detailed a move of $309,000 from projected unassigned equities, or fund balance, which are above the 5 percent minimum standard set by the Commission. The $250,000 will be added to the amount.
He also noted all unexpended revenues at the close of the fiscal year will be allocated to the long-term capital amount.
A letter from 1st District Board of Education member Chris Turner was presented by 2nd District Commissioner Ed Elkins.
In the letter, Turner states most of what McDaniel reported to the Commission also adding the board will now have financial reports at each month’s closing and the board will have a draft budget in the fourth quarter of this year “to begin the prioritization discussion rather than waiting until revenue projections are available in April.”
First District Commissioner Terry Caywood asked McDaniel what effect the teacher cuts would have on the classrooms.
“Class sizes will go up in those schools,” McDaniel said.
Caywood said the class sizes he had already found out about had numbers that would have made him as a teacher “feel like I’d died and gone to Heaven.”
“That is a justifiable answer,” Haywood responded to McDaniel.
“We are in full compliance with the BEP requirements and that would be our goal,” McDaniel said. “If we are over, we would have to go back to the board and let them know we were in need of adding a position back or moving a teacher from another school.”
Elkins and Caywood were the only commissioners to comment on the school system budget at Monday’s meeting.
“I applaud what the board has done,” Elkins said. “I think there has been a lot of sometimes mystery and uncertainty surrounding all the financial things that are done by the school system.”
He said he believed it was an effort by the board of education to “bring more open accountability and transparency to the process.”
Caywood said he understood the frustration caused by the school budget delay.
“But, I want to brag on the school board members. They have really gone above and beyond in my opinion,” Caywood said. “Cutting eight teaching positions is a really big effort to try to come up with monies to put in the budget and show a good faith effort on their part.”
He said he felt McDaniel’s answers verified the decisions made would “not hurt the children.”
“I never want to see us short our students of teachers they need to have,” Caywood said.
The Commission will provide the opportunity for appeals from departments for budget changes should they choose, or commissioners could present changes of their own, at the next meeting. That gathering is set for Monday at noon, in the Commission meeting room of the Courthouse.
Changes made at that session will go forward for a decision to approve the $133 million 2014-15 county budget on July 7.
The county budget proposal is available online at the county website, www.bradleyco.net.