PHOTO: Work has been underway on the new school located on Gosey Hill Road. The school building will open next January and is the only new school in the Williamson County Schools district being added this year, meaning its number of new students won’t have as much of an effect on the school budget as new schools have in the past. / File photo by Alexander Willis
By JOHN McBRYDE
Members of the Williamson County Schools Board of Education will vote Monday night to approve a budget that Superintendent Mike Looney said could require a “heavy lift” from county commissioners when it comes before them later this year.
At a specially called work session on March 14, Looney and the district’s CFO, Leslie Holman, presented a proposed budget for the general purpose school fund of $386,248,331. This is a 10.18 percent increase over the current year’s original budget and an 8.14 percent increase over the revised-to-date 2018-19 budget. The gap between projected revenues and expenses is currently just over $14.9 million.
“I don’t think revenues are going to match expenses, so it’s going to require a heavy lift from the commission this year more than it has in previous years,” Looney said at the budget meeting that lasted nearly three hours. “How they accomplish that I’m not sure.”
“We’re not going to have enough revenue generated with the current support from the state or the County Commission in order to accomplish what we’ve outlined in our budget. We’re currently right at a 15-cent difference, at $14.9 million. Truth is, the gap will narrow as we get closer to the budget and get initial sales tax projections and growth from state. There is still going to be a gap, but we might get lucky and get it down to a 11- or a 12-cent difference.”
A key part of the budget is a 3 percent pay raise for teachers and other employees, plus an increase beyond that proposed by Looney to help bring WCS educators to an even footing with those in nearby districts.
Not surprisingly, the proposed pay raise was welcomed by board members.
“Our district continues to grow as more parents seek to give their children the gift of a WCS education, and I’m pleased that in our budget we’ve allocated for a more competitive wage for our teachers, currently near the very bottom in Middle Tennessee,” said board member Eric Welch. “This will help us attract and retain the qualified educators we need to remain a nationally recognized school district and Tennessee’s highest achieving.”
Brad Fiscus, the board’s newest member who was elected last year to serve the 4th District, said teachers told him while he was campaigning and afterward that raising pay was a priority, especially for the newcomers to the district.
“Dr. Looney said we’re at a place where we’ve got to address the pay gap that we have with our teachers’ certified scale,” Fiscus said. “So I think it’s important that we’re beginning to address that.”
“As I talk to teachers, and when I talked to them when I was campaigning, the biggest issues they addressed was that the salary was not competitive. They could live in Rutherford County and potentially make several thousand dollars more where they lived as opposed to coming to Williamson County, where they couldn’t afford to live necessarily and not make as much in salary. I’m grateful that Dr. Looney is being bolder in addressing that.”
The pay raise makes up one leg of the stool that represents the most significant cost difference. The other two are the increase in number of students projected for the next school year — 1,048 by the end of the first month and a total of 41,571 — and textbook purchases.
“As you know, the last two years we haven’t purchased new textbooks,” Looney said.
WCS had been using the online education resource (OER) method, keeping them from having to buy textbooks for science and social studies.
“But this year we have to purchase new language arts and reading textbooks. We just don’t feel like we’re qualified or have the capacity to reinvent teaching reading across the district [without textbooks]. It is a significant budget item … that we haven’t had to spend the last couple of years.”
Board members will also need to approve the central cafeteria fund request for $13.8 million and the extended school program budget of just over $7 million.
There is also the capital request of nearly $13.3 million for capital needs exceeding $10,000 per project that are needed to maintain the infrastructure of equipment and buildings.
“Dr. Looney and the WCS staff have again prepared a lean, efficient budget capable of continuing to move our district forward and providing our community’s children the educational opportunity they need and deserve,” Welch said.