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NCSS approves tentative budget
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The Newton County Board of Education (BOE) approved of a tentative budget for the 2015-2016 school year during its Tuesday night work session.

The budget approved, and recommended by Newton County School System (NCSS) staff, is the same budget that was discussed in great detail at the BOE’s special-called budget meeting April 21.

The total budget increase over the current school year in this plan would be about $10.6 million, which would raise the NCSS expenditures to about $159.3 million. In this scenario, with revenues increasing by about $8 million to $155.8 million, the NCSS project to have a remaining general fund balance of about $19.3 million by the end of next school year, or $1.5 million less than the general fund balance at the end of the current school year.

The reasons for the budget increase can be attributed to NCSS wanting to restore teacher’s salaries halfway to their 2009 amounts, before the Great Recession hit, and increase 403B contributions by one percent to 2.5 percent in fiscal year 2016. These two factors would cost the NCSS about $1.8 and $1 million dollars.

Other reasons for the possible budget increase are:

• Increase in health insurance cost by $1.2 million

• Hiring at least 14 new employees at a cost of about a million dollars

• Removing furlough days which would cost $1.6 million

• An increase in the cost utilities, fuel, instructional software and technology maintenance by $652,140

Even though the board approved of the budget, board member Eddie Johnson, District 2, had some reservations about the budget. He says he was “disappointed” that the BOE didn’t examine the budget’s options further and wasn’t sure if he had time to get all his questions about the next budget answered.

“I’m just not prepared to, with the questions I have, even though the answers may be simply, but I still don’t know them, and you’re asking me to approve something I’m not sure and maybe don’t support,” Johnson said.

One concern Johnson had about the budget was the $350,000 dollars being spent on textbooks. He wanted to know if the NCSS was looking to move away from traditional textbook usage and being implementing more digital forms of reading material. 

“That’s where we’re going. The state’s going in that direction,” said Johnson.

NCSS Samantha Fuhrey explained to Johnson that the textbook purchases are replacing older textbooks and adopting new textbooks for the foreign language department, which “haven’t had an adoption in very long time,” she said.

Fuhrey also said that the NCSS looks for textbooks that have online components that can be utilized by students.

“You also have to keep in mind when you’re looking at online programming the availability of and access to the program that students would have if they don’t have the technology to support the online tools,” she said.

Johnson also had questions about hiring a new director for NCSS, which was recommend from a salary study given the board almost a month ago.

“How do we justify it,” he said.

“The salary study shows that on the operational side of the organizational chart that we got two people doing the work that they can’t find in any other district,” Fuhrey answered. “At the end of the day, there’s not even a comparative to compare them to because no other district in has that line item. So, what the recommendation was is to add that line item for the director to take the flatness out of the organizational chart.

“You only have to look down the road a couple of different directions at the central office, in our central office, we have very skeletal organization, and we’re just fortunate that we have really good people who are willing to wear multiple hats.”

A vote on a final budget is scheduled for the June 23 BOE meeting.