A year ago, Jackson-Madison County School System budget discussions involved cutting up to 74 positions, superintendent Marlon King reminded the school board. When he officially took office, he and the board committed to saving teacher positions even when other reductions had to be made amid the coronavirus pandemic.
While those discussions were hashed out in the public forums of budget committee meetings and with uncertainty about funding, this year’s budget talks between the superintendent, board chair and vice chair and administration had for-sure sources of funding because of multi-million dollar federal relief grants that JMCSS continues to use to recover.
“That was the conversation last year,” King said during a budget presentation in June. “Much of that talked about the system cutting 74 positions, cutting $10 million back, reducing the number of educational assistants, cutting the curriculum down, reducing athletics, fine arts and ROTC. This year, we are increasing that.”
The budget includes 3% raises for all employees, funding for insurance increases, new positions across the district, added funding to athletics and fine arts and grant reimbursements to areas that were cut last year and to projects that can happen sooner – all of which is a stark contrast between the concerns that characterized budget talks in 2020.
Of the $145-plus million budget, $110 million is from the general purpose fund that is funded locally, statewide and federally. There are other funds, including the federal projects portion at $24.2 million, the food service fund at more than $7 million, and the education capital at $2.7 million.
When the bonuses ended, a raise came
Through increased federal and state funding and through district budgeting, JMCSS was able to allocate a three percent raise, following three bonuses this school year.
“When the bonus is over, then what?” King said in March.
JMCSS cut back on several expenses, many of which were a result of school not being in person at times since March 2020. That was a factor in setting a raise but so was the governor’s state budget.
Gov. Bill Lee placed $120 million teacher pay raises in the state budget through a 4% increase to the Basic Education Program (BEP) – the funding formula that determines how state funds are generated and distributed.
Because BEP doesn’t include all educators like teachers paid with local funding, non-certified staff, support staff or contract workers, the school system used other funding so that all employees get the raise.
For example, $2.3 million of the raises will come from the general purpose fund, $200,000 from the federal projects fund and $90,000 from food service funds.
Other budget highlights
Funding for the 2.5% health insurance premium increases so premium costs remain the same for employees
JMCSS funded all its employees’ 2% increases to their insurance premiums in 2020. Covering the 2% increase in addition to the 50% it pays was estimated to cost JMCSS $61,854 extra.
A total of $325,000 is budgeted for that health insurance and the 2.5% increase
Even though several district-level positions, totaling $742,000, were eliminated from the budget, there will be $259,600 added for four district-level positions: chief of external affairs, part-time chief support service officer assistant, district consulting music teacher and part-time district consulting art teacher
Over $2.1 million for numerous positions at the renovated Jackson Central-Merry Middle and High School that’s reopening this school year as a 6-12 grade school. Those new positions include
- Assistant principals
- Football and basketball operations directors
- Fine arts, physical education (PE) and keyboarding teachers
- School counselors
- Supplemental cost for coaching positions
- In-school suspension (ISS) monitors
- A guidance clerk
$737,000 will add new positions to other schools across JMCSS, including
$345,000 for JCM athletics, fine arts, library, and Career and Technical Education startup supplies and equipment
$291,500 for districtwide support of school athletics and fine arts that will be administered based on school need
New buses, Pope design to be paid with local taxes
Local taxes from the education capital fund are budgeted to pay for: 10 regular education buses, estimated at more than $88,000 each, and four special education buses, estimated at more than $100,000 each, and the $770,000 design study for the new K-8 in the northwest part of the district to replace Pope Elementary.
Since personnel wages, salaries and benefits make up the bulk of the district budget (about $85 million), last year administrators focused on finding savings elsewhere, such as putting off the purchase of new buses to replace some in the aging fleet. Every 15 years, buses are supposed to be replaced; 14 buses met that 15-year mark this school year.
The only way the school system could still use 15-year old buses was to apply for a waiver, for up to three more years. By doing this, they reduced the number of buses needing to be replaced to a minimum of five buses, which is how many the county funded with four special education buses and one regular education bus.
Henson Construction and architect Orcutt & Winslow have been waiting on $700,000-plus to move forward with the project’s design phase, which is the process that will dictate the new school’s budget.
Built in 1952, Pope Elementary is the only public school north of Interstate 40 and west of the Highway 45 bypass in the fastest-growing area of Madison County that also has five private schools.
A new K-8, which would seat 1,000 students, will replace Pope Elementary that’s been overcrowded since the mid- to late-1990s.
How grant funding affects budget
Grant funding will reduce the costs of the general purpose funds.
Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSER) 2.0 and 3.0 grants will fund many employee positions and purchasing instructional supplies, textbooks, software, equipment and student support services that traditionally come from general purpose funds.
Nearly two dozen positions, totaling $1.4 million, will be moved from the general purpose fund to the ESSER 3.0 grant budget as well as $1.2 million for instructional materials and supplies that were budget reductions in fiscal year 2020-21. Another $1.1 million is budgeted for supplies, textbooks, services, software and equipment to start the school year that will be reimbursed by ESSER 3.0, according to the budget binder presented to the school board.
Even though ESSER 3.0’s $37.7 million is allocated, JMCSS must submit a detailed proposal for how it plans to use the funds, and that must be approved by the state. Once approved, the grant funds will be amended into the federal projects fund.
“This board has a right to celebrate the work that they have come together to create an opportunity for us to impact the educational landscape of our community of Jackson-Madison County,” King said. “I really appreciate the laser-focus that this board and this team has around what we think is best for our school system.”
Lasherica Thornton is The Jackson Sun’s education reporter. Reach her at 731-343-9133 or by email at[email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @LashericaT