Approving a 3-percent raise for Bibb County school employees has become a main goal of school board members, but it won’t come without a cost.
The board held another budget work session for the 2016-17 school year Tuesday. The initial budget that was presented met other goals but did not include an increase in salary for teachers and other employees.
“Me personally, I think we need to give the 3-percent raise,” said board President Lester Miller.
The need for such a raise has been of even greater concern than usual this time around, as Gov. Nathan Deal announced earlier in the year that he was giving enough of a reduction in austerity cuts to allow for it. Superintendent Curtis Jones said conversations with other leaders across the state have reflected the salary increase will be necessary to remain competitive.
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“The vast majority of (school systems) are going to give a pay raise,” Jones said.
While the Bibb school system’s projected fund balance at the end of 2016-17 would be above the required 8 percent of expenditures, the most recent Bibb schools budget proposal was already reflecting that it would be about $5 million less than the estimated beginning balance.
“What that means is that we’re spending $5 million more than what we’re taking in,” said Chief Financial Officer Ron Collier.
Because of that, longer-term projections show that the ending fund balance would continue to decrease under current revenue and expenditures, and that’s without a pay increase for teachers. Add in the desired 3-percent raise, and the fund balance would actually go into the negative by more than $4.3 million by fiscal 2019.
That led Miller to suggest that the board look at raising the millage rate, which Collier said would be set in August. He estimated that, to cover a continuing pay increase of 3 percent for all school employees, a 2-mill increase would be needed. That would raise property taxes about $80 per year on a $100,000 home, but it could take that deficit in 2019 and turn it into a positive balance of $18.4 million.
“I never thought I’d come to a day I was advocating that,” Miller said.
Board members Ella Carter, Sue Sipe, Thelma Dillard and Wanda West also said they would support the 3-percent increase, although Dillard expressed a desire to make sure all the district’s other expenditures were in order.
“Is everything that we’re funding necessary?” Dillard asked.
Board member Daryl Morton said he would like to look over the numbers before supporting a tax increase, and board member Jason Downey said he wouldn’t support a tax increase.
Collier said cuts had been made from the top, such as decreasing the work-day count for some district employees, in addition to other measures such as school consolidations.
“It’s all a part of the budget process,” he said.
That process will continue next week, as the board meets again on Monday at 6:30 p.m. According to a calendar provided with Tuesday’s presentation, the board could provide tentative approval to a 2016-17 budget at that time.