Despite bleak projections for the 2014-15 school year, the Newton County Board of Education voted to eliminate two furlough days from its 2013-14 calendar, reducing their upcoming budget by about $1 million in order to give teachers back two days with pay that were taken away this year.
During the budget planning for the current school year, six furlough days were added, meaning that teachers were losing pay for those six days. The reasoning behind it was simple: to save much-needed money for the school system since the local tax digest was down and state and federal funds were hard to come by. Each furlough day saves the NCSS $411,000 per year.
In 2011, careful management of funds left the board with a $4.4 million surplus. Instead of saving the surplus, the board decided to give that money to system employees in what amounted to a temporary raise of about $40 a paycheck.
Superintendent Gary Mathews warned the board in 2011 that by the end of the 2013-14 school year, the system was expected to have just a bit more than $1.3 million, meaning there was just two days of operations expenses left and requiring roughly $8 million in cuts to be made to the budget in order to maintain the minimum fund balance of $4,461,865.
At Tuesday's board meeting, Mathews said that budget projections from the estimated tax assessment digest are between 5-6 percent short of what he had hoped. He said there is always the potential for more money than projections show, but added that "having said that, I'm not sure any of us have that crystal ball."
"If that's true, school year 2014-15 appears to be in the red in the operating budget," he said. "Last year, we gained about $3 million we did not anticipate because of tax collections. It was more than we thought it would be, but it's all a projection scenario. If we come in $3 million this year like we did last year, we will be $3 million in the red, not $6 million... It's a call for the board to make, and not always an easy one."
The board's millage rate is capped out at 20 mils and cannot be raised.
District 2 representative Eddie Johnson balked at adding the two furlough days back to the 2013-14 calendar.
"I'm concerned we're in the hole for the following year and I think it's best to hold it as long as you can, because I don't see any bright days ahead of us. I think we'll be giving a false sense of security... If we have it at the end of the period, then we can give it. I just hate to give them a false sense of security as this calendar is giving me... I'm not saying we shouldn't give it back. I'm saying tell them up front what we're facing."
Johnson said he was in favor of letting teachers know ahead of time the financial situation and that they would add back those furlough days at some point if that was fiscally feasible.
"I think our teachers and administrators do a lot of work that they aren't compensated for," said District 4 representative Almond Turner. "I'm in the opinion we should give these furlough days back. I just think they deserve it."
New board chairwoman Abigail Coggin was also in favor of adding the two furlough days back to the calendar for next year.
"I'm usually more fiscally conservative but I think we have to do something," she said, adding that there are teachers in the NCSS that have been working for five years and were still earning a first year teacher's salary.
"We may make it just like we did last year. We need to, as a board, show that we are looking out for them and not just taking from them... $1 million, in the scheme of things, is not that much."
The board voted in favor of adding back the furlough days, with the exception of Johnson who remained opposed.
The 2013-14 calendar has students returning to school on Aug. 2, with 180 days for students and 186 days for teachers.