Saying they saw little opportunity to trim the numbers and still maintain the expected level of service, the Fayette County Board of Education voted Monday night to approve a $203,671,540 budget for 2017-18 school year.
“We want to be reflective of what this community wants, and this is what I hear them saying. We hate that the number’s gone up,” said Board Member Diane Basham. “The majority of these costs are out of our of control. This is what the state tells us we have to do.”
Of the $10.8 million increase over last year’s budget, teacher pay and benefits account for $9 million of the increase. Included is a two-percent cost of living increase approved in the state budget ($3.1 million), step increases for all employees ($3.2 million), an increase in Teachers Retirement System contribution ($3.1 million), and other items, like health insurance adjustments up $300,000.
While parts were state-mandated, others were needed to keep the best teachers in Fayette.
“We don’t have to do step increases, but those have come back to bite us (in the past) in retention,” said Tom Gray, Assistant Superintendent of Business and Personnel Management, saying that staff is comfortable with their current numbers. “We feel like we have the ratios in the classrooms and the staffing that we need to effectively teach.”
Board Member Brian Anderson noted the three biggest ways to trim the budget, increased class sizes, closing schools, or laying off teachers, were not on the table.
“I didn’t see anything that made sense to this budget,” Anderson said.
Board Chair Dr. Barry Marchman expects to take a deeper look next year.
“This time next year I would like to have a discussion about how we can improve our efficiencies, but the answers we keep coming back to are much larger school buildings and larger class sizes.”
Marchman pointed to Forsyth County as a system that uses larger buildings and class sizes, yet ranks at or better than Fayette in testing.
“On the way to world class I would like to pass Forsyth County,” Marchman said. “I’m not sure if we can increase efficiencies and pass Forsyth County.”
For the board, the bottom line is the members felt compelled to protect the assets that make the school system great.
“When I’m out in the community, the thing I hear is that they want to make sure that our teachers are treated fairly. I do think that this budget takes a pretty good stab at doing that,” said board member Scott Hollowell. “When we invest in our people, it does pay dividends.”