Schools set to ask more of county

    Murphy – The Cherokee County School Board will ask from $400,000-500,000 more from county commissioners for the upcoming school year than they did last year.
    The largest request is for the county to fund 22 of the lowest-paid teacher positions, six more than the county paid for last year.
    “The commissioners’ philosophy is that they don’t believe they should pay for teacher positions – just facilities,” Superintendent Jeana Conley said at Thursday’s budget work session.
     Board member Winfield Clonts said commissioners last year at first said they wouldn’t fund teacher positions. However, they eventually funded 16 positions.
    “We should ask them for 22 positions,” he said.
    “It is our choice to have community schools,” Conley said. “If we don’t get approval for 22 teachers, we will have to make some hard decisions. We will be looking at pink slips – releasing personnel.”
    Schools finance director Stephanie Anderson said six additional positions would cost about $45,000 per teacher including benefits. That would amount to about $270,000 extra the county would pay for the additional teachers.
    “The villain here is the state,” Conley said. “It is unfortunate, but the state is forcing us to turn to the commissioners to ask them for what the state is not supplying.
    “This group of county commissioners have been very proactive in helping Cherokee County Schools. They have tried to be fair. They have stepped up when we say we really need something.”
    The state is directed to pay for school personnel salaries, while the county is supposed to pay for capital projects or facilities. Many counties provide supplements to pay for teacher salaries or other needed items the state doesn’t fund.
    “The last few years we have survived on attrition,” Anderson said. “We have diverted funds [from budget items such as vehicle fleet] to keep people working.”
    “We have been sacrificing fleets like mini-buses for positions. But how long can you do that?” Conley asked.
    The county funded about $6 million for the school system for the 2015-16 school year. The budget states the local allotment as $6,293,859, but Anderson said nearly $300,000 of that came from sources other than the county.
    The school system received $213,204 less from the state for this fiscal year than projected, Anderson said.
    Another worrisome area is exceptional children. The school system is serving 101 more of these children than they did last year. Of about 3,600 students, almost 500 are labeled as exceptional children, Conley said.
    Anderson said she is estimating that insurance premiums will increase by about $100 per employee.
    Last year, the county cut $44,091 from the schools budget request for a driver education instructor. That amount will be left in the budget request for the new school year. The school system had two driver instructors in the past.
    “With the size of our county and the number of students, we need two instructors,” Conley said.
    Another item of discussion was funds for materials and supplies. The school board budgeted for commissioners to pay for this to counter the loss of small schools funds from the state.
    “The commissioners talked at least once about having a referendum to fund this,” school board member Tim Coffey said.
    “Should we ask for more [money] for classroom materials?” Clonts asked. “Aren’t we still 50th in the nation?”
    Anderson said they are seeking $86,000 for classroom supplies. New board member George Postell said many schools have held fundraisers to be able to buy classroom supplies. Anderson said the $86,000 provides $26.14 per child. If they ask for $50 per child, the total would increase to $164,500.
    “You can’t buy a book for $40 now,” Conley said.
    Board member Paul Brown said he would like to know how much teachers across the school system spend from their own money for supplies.
    The county cut $20,650 from the request to fund athletic officials from this year’s budget. In the proposed 2016-17 budget, school officials will ask the county to fund officials 100 percent.
    “Middle school athletics are struggling,” Conley said. “Without [totally funding officials], we may not be able to have [middle school] teams.”
    Included in the proposed new budget will be a request for $30,000 to be divided among the three high school bands in Murphy, Andrews and Hiwassee Dam. The county cut $10,000 from a $20,000 request last year. Hiwassee Dam didn’t have a band program then.
    The school system will again ask the county to provide $20,000 to help in sustaining Chromebooks, laptop computers provided for all middle and high school students. The Chromebooks were provided by a Golden Leaf grant. The commissioners cut the $20,000 request last year.
    The board discussed adding another grounds person for schools. The county cut the $45,000 request for grounds personnel to $33,000 last year.
    The board also discussed their aging fleet of vehicles. Commissioners last year cut $50,000 from their budget request. Conley said the system’s newest vehicle has 120,000 miles.
    “Hopefully this year we can get two [vehicles] instead of one,” she said.
    Conley said they should ask for one vehicle for maintenance and one for the general fleet. Coffey suggested they ask the county to replace one vehicle per year.
    Conley added that although she has respect for The Learning Center charter school, $300,000 of the Cherokee County School System budget goes to the charter school. She suggested the county provide funds to make up for that $300,000.
    “It would be helpful if the commissioners would recognize that $300,000 of our state budget – we don’t touch,” Anderson said.
    The school board has until March 14 to provide a draft school system budget for the 2016-17 school year. The board likely will approve the draft budget at its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday, March 11.
    “This is just our starting point,” Conley said of the proposed budget.