With the Wilson County Commission unlikely to raise taxes, the Wilson County Schools Board of Education approved a tentative budget Thursday that restores many proposed cuts but requires help from the commission and changes scheduling at the high schools.
The WCS plan, presented by Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall, saves the jobs of 95 teacher assistants, restores stipends to athletic and academic coaches and mentors, and preserves the adult high school and GED program. What it does not save is 41 teaching positions. But, no currently employed teachers will lose their jobs under the plan, as the need for 41 additional teachers goes away with the scheduling change at the high schools.
The board was presented a budget May 9 that, to make up a $10.3 million shortfall, eliminated all of the above and also any new textbooks. After considering and discussing the proposal for three hours Saturday and another three hours Tuesday, the board told Hall and Director of Schools Donna Wright that it could not accept it.
So Hall and Wright came back Thursday with a proposal that was approved 5-2, with board members Wayne McNeese and Kimberly McGee voting against it.
Hall said eliminating the need for the 41 additional teachers saves $2.6 million and makes the deficit $7.7 million. Wright said that, even with the new Green Hill High School opening in August, the switch from a four-by-four block schedule to an AB yearlong schedule means fewer teachers will be needed.
For years, Wilson County high school students have taken four classes the first half of the year and then four different classes the second half. Under the AB schedule, students will still be able to take eight classes, but they will be all year, with four meeting Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and four meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays, alternating. The middle schools already use the AB system, board member Mike Gwaltney pointed out.
The administration also recommended delaying the planned purchase of new English Language Arts textbooks for a year. That will save $1.2 million, bringing the shortfall down to $6.5 million.
WCS will be asking the county to pick up the cost of the adult high school and GED program. The district is offering to continue housing the programs, but the county will be asked to pay their combined $1.1 million cost.
Still facing a $5.4 million deficit, the county is being asked to assume $1.9 million in debt payments currently being made by the district. And, the district will not transfer $3.5 million to the employee health insurance fund.
Those last two items cover the cost of 95 teacher assistants, $3 million, athletic coaching supplements, $2 million, and stipends for mentors, tech coaches and portfolio reviewers, $400,000.
Administrators and board members agreed that the proposed budget, which will be considered by the county commission’s budget and education committees Thursday, only puts off till next year the need for additional local revenue.
The district has opened or is opening three new schools without any increase in local funding aside from organic growth in property and sales tax revenue. Not only does that growth, which comes from new property added to the tax rolls and increases in sales that comes with more population, not make up for adding three new schools and their associated costs, but it pushes the district further and further behind.
Adding to the problem is the state’s proportion of funding for the district is shrinking as its Basic Education Program adjusts for the wealth of the district’s residents — Wilson County has among the top per capita incomes in the state. That means, according to the BEP formula, that county residents should bear more of the burden in funding local schools.
“We’re on the ledge,” said board member Chad Karl. “A lot of things can happen and we’re out of money.”
Another shutdown because of the coronavirus or an unusually large influx of new students could put the district in the red, Hall and Wright said.
“Because we’re not finding any new money in our budget to create this,” Wright said. “There are serious ramifications going down this route.”