Liberty County Board of Education members are weighing their options while looking at a $3.9 million gap in the proposed budget.
The proposed fiscal year 2024 budget calls for more than $139.6 million in spending. But there is only $135.6 million identified in revenues so far.
The lion’s share of the budget, 60.6%, is in instruction.
“We have to make sure we can take care of the children in the classroom,” board Chair Verdell Jones said. “We need to have our classrooms covered — bar none, end of the story.”
State funding is expected to provide $80.6 million, and local property tax proceeds are projected to bring in about $27 million. Federal funding is budgeted to account for just over $26 million.
School system officials could tap into their fund balance to make up the difference. Jones stressed the budget presented to board members is tentative and final approval is still another week away.
“But we do have an opportunity to make changes,” she said.
Board members approved the tentative budget, with board member Marcus Scott casting a dissenting vote.
The school system is expected to include school resource officers at both high schools and all three middle schools Schools chief finance officer Stephanie Clark said the rise in expenditures goes beyond personnel. The school system has to adopt new textbooks, which could run from $1 million to $2 million.
“We have textbook adoption coming up this year and we can’t ignore the textbook adoption,” she said.
The school system has been increasing pay for employees on a rotating basis. Of the school system’s nearly 1,400 employees, about 170 are making less than $15 an hour, Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry said. Many paraprofessionals, who have been with the system for a long time, are making well above $15 an hour, he said. Parapro salaries, Clark said, were adjusted last year and remain in the rotation for an increase in future years.
The school system also has to supplement the Bright From the Start program.
“We don’t receive enough funding to fully support the Pre-K program,” Clark told board members.
The system also bears the costs of insurance for classified personnel, and those costs have increased.
“It is very important we take care of staff,” Jones said. “I would love to find the money to take our staff to a level where we’re all comfortable.”
The school system also is paying for a new school resource officer set up, with one SRO at each of the middle and high schools. SROs at the middle schools can help at adjacent elementary schools, and the sergeant in charge of the program can help at the elementary schools.
“All of our staff, everybody, will receive some increase this year,” Jones said, “on top of the fact that we have to pay additional money for health insurance for everybody, on top of the fact that we have to do something to more secure our schools.”
The school system’s fiscal year begins July 1. Board members have a second public hearing on the budget at a called meeting today at 5 p.m.
“This is not the end all,” Jones said. “This is the beginning.”