District presents budget request to County

May. 14, 2013 @ 05:35 AM

State mandated increases and beefed up security are two of the primary reasons for a budget increase asked by the Rutherford County Schools (RCS).

Monday, RCS Superintendent Janet Mason presented Rutherford County Commissioners with a budget request which represented a 5.6 percent increase over last year’s funding.

“It is a difficult budget front whether it is federal funding or state funding,” Mason said. “We are keenly aware of the difficult situation we face locally as well.”

The county is responsible for a portion of the district’s overall budget. That portion requested is $12.9 million.

A large portion of the increase comes from state-mandated increases in employee benefits ($320,779), a 1 percent unemployment reserve requirement ($62,351), a 1 percent salary increase for teachers ($70,000) and a state shift of federal unemployment to the local allotment ($50,000).

Additionally, the budget increase request comes from what school officials called “the cost of doing business.” That increase includes an energy rate increase, property insurance increase and a required upgrade for financial software. The overall increase amounts to $586,097. That figure includes a reduction in fees and forfeitures of $100,000.

RCS is also asking the county for capital improvement funding to pay for additional security measures at schools.

Those include completing outdoor wireless Internet access across the district, the installation of security isolation panels, installing security cameras and recorders and card access to exterior doors.

“Some of our schools have been around for a long time and master keys and grand master keys may have gotten out,” said Benny Hendrix, RCS chief operating officer. “Going to this new security system would help rein that all in.”

Hendrix did not specify what schools needed which additional security measures.

“We have met with parents and district advisory group including Sheriff Francis,” Mason said. “We have tried to prioritize the list to help keep our schools as safe as possible.

“There are a lot of different things that people are doing and some of those are extreme. We are not looking to do those.”

Thus far, the county budget presented by Rutherford County Manager Carl Classen leaves all funding flat to 2012-13 figures.

“If we get the same money, we are moving backwards,” said Heidi Kerns, RCS finance officer.

That, combined with unknown state and federal funding leaves school district officials up in the air regarding the overall funding picture for the next fiscal year.

“As we go forward and get more information from the state and federal government, maybe we can adjust those numbers,” Kerns said. “Hopefully the cuts from the state and federal government won’t be as deep as expected.”

Due to the level of county funding, the district only receives approximately 90 percent of state low-wealth money. Kerns said if the county increases its contribution to the district by $1.4 million, RCS could receive 100 percent of that funding. If the state follows through with legislation and factoring in the current rate of county contribution, the district may lose about $33,000 more in state funding than last year.

Additionally, the effects of federal sequester may take a toll on school funding. Kerns said initial estimates are between a 5-11.5 percent cut in federally funded programs to the district.