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School board discusses ways to save money

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Managing Editor

Chilton County Board of Education members discussed ways to decrease expenses and save money in order to pay salaries during a meeting on May 3.

The current salary schedule approved by the board pays teachers more than what the school system receives in funding from the state for teacher salaries. This has created a deficient of $1.2 million.

The 2018-2019 fiscal year audit for the general fund shows $645,668 more was spent than revenue received for the general fund. This overspending was offset by money that had been in the fund balance leaving the school system with an end of the year fund balance of $3.4 million.

During the May 3 meeting, principals present stated that comparisons between the salary schedule and the state minimums for their non-tenured teachers did not come near to that total.

“I think we are unclear about this money,” Verbena High School Principal Tammy Hand said. “… I don’t think we understand how we came up with $1.2 million overage in teacher pay.”

Board President Pam Price said the total included some tenured teachers as well.

The board first adopted a salary schedule that was higher than the state minimum requirements in 2017, using local funding to make up the difference. It takes three years and then a renewal of a contract for a teacher to become tenured. Therefore, teachers hired in 2017 and potentially 2018 have already reached tenure and are locked into the salary schedule.

Price said retirement and benefits also contributed to the number.

Jemison High School Principal Kendall Jackson asked about the possibility of a clerical error causing some of the discrepancy.

“Is the doubled amount of CIS (classroom instructional supply) money that we provided this year … included in that $1.2 million?” Thorsby High School Principal Corey Clements asked. “Because that was $600 per teacher times almost 700 teachers that is almost half a million dollars.”

Price said she was uncertain.

(The classroom instructional supply had been paid twice by the state to the school system and the full amount passed on to teachers. To repay the extra portion it was not supposed to receive, funds from the general fund were used to make up the difference.)

Price said she talked to Andrew Craig of the state education department Division of Administrative and Financial Services, who said the board needs to find a  solution or the state will find one for them.

Suggestions were asked for from board members and principals.

Price said a list of suggestions would be presented to Benson.

Board member Jacqueline Sullivan asked how the energy savings from when the school system had an energy manager, who checked that things were being turned off and thermostats set conservatively, had been used. (This position ended February 2020, when the board failed to approve a job description for the safety coordinator/ energy manager. School administrators now monitor this.)

“We upped coaching supplements,” Price said. “It seemed to me like every time I turned around that money was being spent 10 times.”

Maintenance Supervisor Freddy Smith said he was confident energy costs would have increased since there is not someone monitoring it from a systemwide perspective. However, he did not have exact figures.

Price mentioned condensing bus routes. Griffin pointed out that 20% of CCS students were doing virtual school, so looking at this would have to be after the start of next school year to have realistic numbers.

Price suggested looking at decreasing the money spent on supplements.

“We can look at them, but let me caution you because here is the situation with that we have administrators who are recruiting those individuals to fill those positions based on those supplements now as a part of the job offer,” Griffin said. “… But yes we can look at that.”

Looking at decreasing cafeteria employees was also suggested.

Jackson and Griffin pointed out that this school year is not an accurate representation of how many students will be eating in the cafeteria next year.

Board member Keith Moore said the board needs to look at cutting things in the general fund, cafeteria workers are paid from a different fund.

Board member Chris Smith said the board needs to consider consolidating schools because it has 13 separate buildings.

“In my mind, the biggest thing that we should be looking at, I am not going to pretend to know how to start looking at it, we have to start looking at our facilities to understand how we can combine and condense to the point where we have a much better student to teacher to administrator ratio, and we serve the children of Chilton County,” Smith said.

“There is no long-term data that shows that consolidating schools saves money, there is just as much that says that it does not because you have to start by building a $60 or $75 million building,” Clements said.

Griffin confirmed that schools within the system are at capacity.

Clements also said there would be increased transportation costs.

No suggestions were voted on.