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Long County BoE budget expecting more growth
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For the second straight year, Long County school employees would get a "one-time salary adjustment" of 3 percent if the Board of Education approves a proposal by School System Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters.

A one-time salary adjustment is not the same as a raise, school system Chief Financial Officer Bridget Welch explained during the May 9 BoE meeting, because it is not permanent.

The district is not in a position to grant a raise because there is no assurance the state will continue to pay districts to sustain the higher salaries, Waters said.

According to budget printouts presented during the meeting, giving all employees a 3 percent salary adjustment would cost about $523,267.

Welch presented the budget two ways — with and without the adjustment.

If the district grants the adjustment, the general fund expenses would total $25.4 million; without the adjustment, $24.8 million. The district expects to spend about $23 million by the end of the current fiscal year.

That would leave a projected $2.5 million fund equity on June 30. With the salary adjustment next year and assuming no student growth (and therefore no increased state revenue), the district would end 2016-17 with $1.9 million fund equity; without the adjustment, $2.4 million.

When Welch said the fiscal 2016-17 budget was built with no increase in ad valorem taxes, Waters said, "Did you all hear the bells go off there? That’s good stuff. We’re excited about that."

Assuming no growth is a way of building the budget conservatively. The school system has been able to avoid tax increases for several years because of increased state funding resulting from continual growth in enrollment.

To demonstrate that growth, Welch presented a chart showing the number of students enrolled. The district has 3,489 students this school year, compared with 2,178 in 2004-05. That is a 60 percent increase.

Yet the district has held growth on employees to a slower rate. In 2004-05, Long County had 292 school employees; this year, 427 — 46 percent higher, Welch’s figures showed.

"If we stop growing, that’s when the rubber’s going to hit the road hard," Waters said. "We were also fortunate to have brigade reimbursement money from that as well two different times, that helped us carry going through that growth."

Welch said the brigade reimbursement provided $4 million. Several counties adversely affected by the decision not to bring a fifth brigade to Fort Stewart several years ago were granted money to compensate for the change in plans.

The system’s 2016-17 spending plan also proposes adding 12 teachers and three paraprofessionals to meet expected enrollment growth.

Other highlights of the draft budget include some construction that Welch said would not fit into the capital outlay budget:

• Systemwide irrigation upgrades ($5,000)

• Field improvements ($15,000)

• Updating technology access points to high school ($10,000)

• New softball bleachers (visitors side, $15,000)

• Secure storage at the athletic complex ($13,000)

• Upgrade scoreboard lighting to LED ($8,400)

The capital outlay budget, which is separate from the general fund, is dominated by construction of the new grades three through eight school. Ground was broken Tuesday on the school.

Welch said the district hopes to be "significantly" finished with the school by August 2017. The budget calls for about $24.5 million for the school, $1.3 million for architectural fees and a $1 million contingency fund in case there are cost overruns.

Several improvements are planned at the high school for fiscal 2016-17. The biggest-ticket items are $80,000 for additional bleachers to the football stadium, $50,000 for installing fencing around ponds, $25,000 for awning and fencing at the agricultural area and $18,000 a long-jump lane and pit.

Waters explained that his plan for the bleachers is to try to install band areas in the bleachers because the Class AAA schools Long County will play next year have bigger bands than their current AA opponents. He said he is not sure if that will end up being the way the bleachers are built, but the money is set aside in case it can work.

The capital budget also includes $1.3 million for a new bus/maintenance facility.

The school board received the budget without taking action May 9. The board will review it at its June 13 meeting and adopt it in July. Because the fiscal year starts July 1, the board will have to pass a spending resolution to continue to fund operations until the budget is adopted.

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