Student transportation to Ombudsman, Newton’s alternative school, is one of the items being considered as a possible cut from the 2013-14 school budget as Newton County School System officials reviewed the tentative budget.
At the first meeting to discuss the 2013-14 budget, school system officials went through the proposed budget with the BOE and gave board members the opportunity to ask questions.
According to the tentative budget, the school system has a beginning fund balance of $15,628,766.
When factoring in state and local revenues, the system has a total available sources balance of $149,493,603.
The school system has expenditures that total $139,975,257 — leaving it with an ending fund balance of $9,518,346.
The tentative budget in its entirety can be found by visiting CovNews.com. During the meeting, officials discussed what expenses were necessary, reviewing each line item. When discussing student transportation, NCSS officials mentioned that the cost of transporting students to Ombudsman was more than $100,000.
Though transportation for Ombudsman was not a specific line item on the budget, officials quickly went into discussions on where those funds could be used, one of them being for full-time nurses at each of the schools.
According to Michael Barr, director of support services for the NCSS, the school system transports 43 of 196 students on average to one of three designated Ombudsman bus stops daily. The other 153 students are transported by other means.
Barr said the estimated annual operational costs, which includes labor, fuel and bus maintenance, associated with providing transportation for students attending the Ombudsman program is $113,731.20.
Barr explained that the state provides no funding for transportation for alternative school programs, therefore, the school system is not required to provide transportation. Barr explained where the funding would go if it transportation to and from Ombudsman was in fact cut.
"As transportation for Ombudsman is not a specific line item in the budget, any savings would be reflected in the overall transportation budget during the next fiscal year," he said. "The elimination of the route would potentially allow for the length of other routes to be shortened or may help to offset the need to hire additional drivers going forward."
With officials agreeing that the cost of transporting a slim number of students was a significant amount, officials discussed possibly using the funds elsewhere.
BOE Chair Abigail Coggin made the point that at Newton County Theme School at Ficquett, there wasn’t a full-time nurse on staff, which could sometimes leave room for error with faculty left to fill the void.
She said this could also be the case at other schools that didn’t have full-time nurses. According to NCSS director of student services RaNae Fendley, Fairview, Flint Hill, Live Oak, Middle Ridge, South Salem, and West Newton elementary schools; Clements, Cousins, Indian Creek, Liberty, and Veterans Memorial middle schools; and Alcovy, Eastside and Newton high schools all have full-time nurses.
However, East Newton, Ficquett Theme, Heard-Mixon, Livingston, Mansfield, Oak Hill, Porterdale, and Rocky Plains elementary schools have part-time nurses.
Fendley explained that Challenge Charter Academy calls the nurse at Cousins if needed; Ombudsman calls the nurse at Indian Creek if needed; and Mainstay Academy calls the nurse at Cousins if needed. Coggin asked if there were figures for possibly having a full-time nurse at each school, which were not immediately available at the meeting. However, NCSS business manager Peggy Bullard said it would take four more nurses to have one at each school in the system at a cost of $146,000.
Though the board and officials discussed adding nurses and cutting transportation to Ombudsman, there were no decisions made to do so at Tuesday’s meeting.
The tentative budget is scheduled to be adopted at the board’s Tuesday, May 21 meeting at 7 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.
The BOE may hold work sessions again to discuss the tentative budget if necessary.
The final budget should be up for adoption at the BOE’s June 25 meeting.