A $3.1 million price tag for expenses above last year’s budget was too steep for the Wilson County Budget Committee to accept the proposed Wilson County Board of Education’s initial offering Tuesday night.
Instead, the committee sent the proposed budget back to the board, asking for a status quo version with mandates as part of the requirements and a needs assessment separate.
“Mandates, to me, are things that you are required by law to do,” said Commissioner Mike Justice, a member of the Budget Committee. “…If you come back to me and tell me you have to raise taxes or lay people off, I will vote to lay people off. That’s my vote.”
The budget and education committees met jointly Tuesday at the Central Office to comb through the budget with school officials. Both committees charged the school board to have the revised budget proposal ready by the time the Budget Committee meets again Tuesday.
Among the new items included in the proposed budget this year would be $1.2 million in infrastructure improvements to provide additional Internet connectivity at schools to allow for a new state-mandated PARCC test that must be taken online. That amount is in addition to $845,000 in state funding Wilson County schools received for the upgrades.
It’s a plan the board referred to as the bare minimum after Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall pitched a plan to allow each student to have a Chrome Book personal device and switch to e-books instead of traditional textbooks to the tune of about $6 million over the next three years.
“We’ve added a lot of square feet over the years, but we haven’t added any upgrades in technology,” Hall said.
The proposed budget also included a second deputy director of schools that would oversee academics with a nearly $180,000 annual price tag, along with additional staff at Rutland Elementary School, which is currently under construction to build an addition.
A 1-percent raise for all school employees was also included in the proposed budget at a cost of $825,000. That's in addition to a 1.5 percent state-suggested raise, which 1/3 would be state funded.
“If we didn’t get the additional $3.1 million, we’ve got to make cuts elsewhere,” said Director of Schools Tim Setterlund. “If we had a good way of making cuts, we would present you with a balanced budget.”
But Justice called the budget unfair to the Wilson County Commission.
“It’s almost a little unfair that you hand us a budget with needs, and we leave here, and it’s said that we have to lay off people because the commission didn’t fund the budget,” Justice said.
Sutterland responded, “We will do what’s best for children.”
To that, Justice said, “I do that every time. I raised taxes twice for children.”
The motion to send the budget back to the board passed the Education Committee unanimously.