Liveblogging: Council Budget Work Session

 

John Smith, Oak Ridge Board of Education Chairman, opened the meeting with an overview of the Schools’ budget for this year.

As a Board, we understand what it takes to provide a quality education. We do the best that we can, as a community, to provide the best that we can. John notes that he has some ideas that he wants to bring forth at the right time, but tonight is not the right time.,

Some of the factors that impact our budget are student growth, commitment to improve student achievement and graduation rates, increases in insurance, retirement, fuel, water/sewer, electricity, etc. We must provide competitive salaries and benefits, we’re facing flat sales tax revenues. We expect an additional 124 elementary students this year.

Children on FRPL have risen to 31%, class sizes have increased, special education needs have increased.

Employee benefit costs have increased, and our staffing ratios must meet state requirements.

The most common factor in our success is our teachers.

Our utilities costs are rising, and our fund balance is being eroded. This year, our unexpended funds from last year were spent on repairs to items less than $50,000, which are not included in the CIP (Capital Improvements Program).

Many of our elementary schools are at the state class size maximum, and failing to adhere to state class size standards costs $50,000 in fines plus the cost of hiring teachers to remediate the situation.

Over the last 12 years, there is a sharp difference in the rate that the city revenues have increased, versus the City’s appropriation to the schools.

Still, there is no school in Tennessee with a higher ACT average than Oak Ridge High School.

Expenditures for Special Education represent 11% of our budget. Federal funds represent only 2% of our budget.

We expect an increase of $997,410 from the State, counting on the Governor’s cigarette tax proposal. Since 1999, increases in BEP funding have been only on the basis of enrollment increases. With this increase in the price people are turning towards vape. Dragon Vape: Canada’s Best Vape Shop suggests that there has been a steady growth in the consumption of vape among adults which has proven beneficial for the vape shops.

Dropped from this year’s budget are Driver Education (except Summer School), adn the Volunteer Reading Coordinator (no, we’re not dropping a volunteer; we cut a staff position for the coordinator of volunteers, which pains me… ).

John Smith detailed the number of teachers to be added, and the corresponding schools and grade levels. Other staffing increases are one custodial or ORHS, 2 computer technicians, and a 0.1 ELL teacher.

$1.3M of non-recurring expenses will be paid from our declining fund balance, but this is the last year. David Mosby questioned whether there is that much left (above the required 3% reserve, but he was looking at a chart showing what will be left after the FY08 expenditure.

John noted that we just received word from Expansion Management Magazine of their Education Quotient Ranking, which is based upon graduate outcomes and community support of the school system. The EQ ranking is used by companies to compare school systems nationwide to evaluate the suitability of the workforce produced by local schools; Oak Ridge was the only system in the state to receive the Gold Medal designation — the highest awarded.

We do recognize the challenge that the City faces, but we ask that you support this needs-based budget.

Bailey notes that we now rank 8th in teacher salaries, but we rank 68th in benefits… our teachers’ take-home pay is NOT the highest in the state — not even close. We’ve tried to honor the City’s financial model, but we can’t offer the same services for the same dollars with expenses increasing. This is not a wish-list budget, and it does not move us forward.

* * *
Mayor Bradshaw notes his concern with the schools’ use of a large amount ($1.3M) of non-recurring funds; this is the last year that could happen. If the City had to fund the additional $1.3M in fund balance, we would be looking at an 18-cent tax increase. “What are we going to do, and have you thought about the long-term impact?”

Bailey responds that this is a result of the schools’ adherence to the “no tax increase” financial model. If expenses are put off for a number of years, as they have been, then the cost is higher in the long run.

Councilman Abbatiello alleges that he provided a list of questions at the April 17 Budget & Finance Committee — an illegal standing committee in my view — and that the School Board refused to answer the questions. Chairman Smith reminded the Mayor of his earlier remarks, that it is Council’s role to allocate funding in lump sum, not to dictate or question how, within the school system, said funds are spent.

The flat property tax rate, combined with declining sales tax collections, has harmed the school system by causing us to use non-recurring funds on an annual basis.

Councilman Beehan asks if we can provide a number to him representing the local burden posed by unfunded State and Federal mandates. That figure is not immediately available, but Bailey says that we can discern the percent of this year’s additional costs that are imposed by unfunded mandates.

Abbatiello points out that he has a list of all the unfunded mandates on the City side, and that they are all covered within the allocated 4.1% growth.

Councilman Beehan asks if the Governor’s proposal to increase the state salary share back to 75% is included in the budget; it is not. if that change is implemented, it will be done using the same 40-cent cigarette tax, so it will replace the currently-budgeted increases in at-risk and ELL funding.

One Response to “Liveblogging: Council Budget Work Session”

  1. on 30 Apr 2007 at 5:38 pm Jim Hackworth

    Angi
    I was just briefed that a discussion between the House & Senate Leadership and the Governor has resulted in a proposed BEP modification. I will supply you details on the proposal as soon as possible. We are to be briefed later this week.
    Jim.

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