06/22/05 — Schools want 801,000 dollars for supplements

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Schools want 801,000 dollars for supplements

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on June 22, 2005 1:46 PM

The superintendent of the Wayne County School System asked county commissioners Tuesday to release $801,000 from the county's budget so the money can be used to keep a 6.5 percent teacher pay supplement.

School officials maintain they had an agreement with commissioners about the money, which they say is crucial to recruiting and keeping good teachers.

Dr. Steve Taylor

News-Argus/Kaye Nesbit

Dr. Steve Taylor speaking to commissioners Tuesday at a hearing on the proposed county budget.

"As you know, last year our two boards held many discussions regarding this issue and in the end made an agreement that the Board of Education would make the necessary cuts and the board of county commissioners would continually fund their portion of the increased teacher supplement at the rate of 5 percent minimum increase in current expense for subsequent years," said Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor.

Commissioners first approved a 5-percent budget increase for the schools last year solely for the purpose of increasing "in-classroom certified teacher supplements to 6.5 percent."

The school board responded by saying it needed the 5-percent increase for current expenses, and believed the schools were entitled to that increase each year.

"There was an unwritten agreement that the 5-percent increase in current expense would occur each year, which started seven years ago under then Superintendent Jimmy Williams and County Manager Will Sullivan," Taylor wrote Smith in August.

County Manager Lee Smith wrote back in September, saying commissioners would consider releasing the 5 percent for the 2004-05 year based on certain conditions. Those conditions included a requirement that the school system fund teacher supplements at 6.5 percent beginning Jan. 1, 2005.

The commissioners also requested that budget adjustments by the schools not affect classrooms or classroom activities.

The two boards eventually reached a compromise, in which the schools would have to make do with the 5-percent increase for the 2004-05 budget, and raise the teacher supplement to 6.5 percent, with the stipulation that the money come from school coffers.

The schools agreed to raise the supplement paid teachers and other personnel from 3.5 percent to 6.5 percent, beginning in January 2005.

School board member John Grantham voted for the compromise last fall but pointed out that the commissioners had not promised to pay the higher supplement next year, so it could return to 3.5 percent.

Taylor said Tuesday that there was a clear understanding that the schools would receive the additional money annually, even though it wasn't in writing.

"My daddy always taught me that a man's word was his bond. With this being the case, a written agreement was not necessary," he told commissioners Tuesday.

Taylor said that without an additional increase in the schools' current expense budget, the school board would only be able to maintain its current staff and programs.

He said the schools "would not be able to restore the millions of dollars in cuts we have absorbed since 2002-2003."

Taylor pointed to the commissioners' policy regarding public education, which they approved in April.

"You stated that a high priority in the successful education of the children of Wayne County is providing competitive recruitment and retention incentives for qualified/certified teachers," Taylor said.

The commissioners are proposing to keep the schools' operational budget the same as last year, but they are considering putting aside 5 percent, or about $800,000, for future school projects.

Taylor said the commissioners' plans will hurt the schools' ability to recruit good teachers.

"You are sitting on $18 million in fund balance, we are sitting on $2 million," Taylor told commissioners. "To not receive the 5-percent current expense increase as you committed, and is expected, would require us to pull almost another million dollars from our fund balance in order to maintain teacher supplements at 6.5 percent. This is impossible and cannot be done."

Commissioners have until the end of the month to approved a budget for 2005-06.