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Macon schools request $7.9 million from county

schoolsAs the Macon County budget process gets under way, education spending will be one of the meatier items up for discussion.

Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin will be asking county commissioners for $7.9 million — a $620,000 increase over last year. Baldwin attributed the increase to continued cuts at the state level. 

Since submitting the budget proposal, Baldwin said he has received some positive news that may help reduce that request, including about $220,000 more from the state for operating expenses and driver’s education. The legislature cut all funding for driver’s education, but a new bill introduced could dedicate funding for the mandated program. If it comes through, Macon could receive $75,000 to cover the cost of driver’s education. 

Still, the school system isn’t receiving as much state funding to cover operational expenses, teachers’ assistant salaries or salary increases for teachers and other non-classified employees like janitors and cafeteria workers.  

Baldwin said the state approved an increase in pay and benefits for beginning teachers, which will cost the school system an additional $85,000 to fund locally. Macon County Schools is also requesting $90,000 to give non-classified employees a pay raise. Baldwin said non-classified employees like custodians and cafeteria workers deserve the same raise. 

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“Every employee got a $1,000 raise last year except for non-classified employees — they only got a $500 raise,” Baldwin said. “The state said if the local governments want to see those people get a raise, the local government needs to provide it.”

To combat $11,000 worth of state cuts to the central office expenses, Baldwin said the school system has been contracting with retired school employees to perform some of the central office duties. 

“Since those retirees’ salaries are capped to receive retirement benefits, there’s a cost savings there and we get to tap into the experience and expertise they have,” he said. 

Baldwin said the school system has cut $300,000 from its budget over the last several years and there is little left to cut without getting rid of teaching positions. So far, Macon County has dealt with shortfalls by attrition — not replacing teachers who leave the school system.

“There’s a couple of teacher positions that will be vacant in the coming year,” Baldwin said. “We’ve not identified exactly which positions we can absorb, but any position vacated will be under scrutiny.” 

He is very concerned about not receiving state funding for teachers’ assistants in grades kindergarten through third grade. If the funding doesn’t come through, Baldwin said the school system would have to use fund balance money to cover the positions that aren’t vacant because the positions are a necessity. 

The state claims to fund a teacher assistant in each classroom from K-3, but Baldwin said the funding doesn’t add up. He said the state provides $1.1 million for teacher assistants, which is only enough to cover the teacher assistant salaries for the 35 kindergarten classes in Macon County. 

“Those teacher assistants are vital to those elementary teachers — extremely important to the safety of the classroom,” he said. “They allow teachers to teach. Since we don’t have many school nurses left, assistants make sure students take their medications and provide first aid if anybody has a bloody nose or whatever.”

In June 2014, Macon had $379,770 in total fund balance compared to over $3 million four years ago. Baldwin said the schools’ fund balance has become dangerously low.

“The trajectory that our fund balance has been on for the past few years is even more concerning,” he said. “With that in mind, our board has focused on correcting that trajectory and has worked hard to build some fund balance back into our budget. While it is difficult to predict where we are at this point, we are confident that we have turned the corner.”

Macon County School submitted a separate request for capital improvements. The county commissioners have agreed to apply for $3 million in interest-free loans to pay for upgrades at Union Academy and Highlands High School.



2015-2016 Local Current Expense

  • Beginning teacher raise/increase benefits: $85,167
  • Increase benefits to other locally paid: $23,738
  • Decrease in teacher assistant funding: $279,000
  • Decrease in timber sales money: $128,000
  • Decrease in funding for central office admin: $11,339
  • Elimination of driver's education funding: $72,783
  • $500/year increase for classified employees: $90,000
  • Total impact to local current expense: $690,027
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