School officials not happy with final county funding figure

The Pulaski County Board of Supervisors on Monday finalized school funding for the 2019-20 school year. And while the school system will receive an additional $375,000 above this year’s historic level of county funding, School Board members and school administrators are not happy.

The supervisors unanimously approved a resolution setting local school funding for next year at $21,847,055, which includes $15,507,134 for operations – $375,000 more than this year – and $6,044,601 in debt service for School Board facilities.

The $375,000 in additional funding is well short of the $1.4 million sought by the School Board in their budget proposal. They asked for the additional funds to pay for their five top budget priorities (listed in order): a 3 percent raise and step increase for teachers, 3 percent raise for all support staff, new bus driver salary scale and salary adjustments, five school security officers for elementary schools and hiring of a Career and Tech Education Counselor.

In their resolution, supervisors state they place the highest value “on our students, our teachers, our business community and our taxpayers.”

It continued that the Board of Supervisors concurs with many of the School Board’s stated budget priorities, but “does not fully agree with the order of priority in which they were presented.”

Supervisors said in the resolution they feel student safety and school security should be the School Board’s No. 1 priority and not their No. 4 stated priority.

Noting it is common practice to budget for top priorities first, the supervisors said, “funding the priorities of school systems should in principle be no different than that of the private sector, successful divisions of the public sector or found within the households of taxpayers.”

Supervisors stated in the resolution they feel the School Board’s top five stated priorities “have not effectively been prioritized for funding” within their proposed budget.

The resolution breaks down the local school funding package the way the supervisors see it, with Required Local Effort listed first ($8,455,375), followed by the School Board’s top four budget priorities ($1,539,557) and finally $5,512,202 for operations to be used at the discretion and the prioritization of the School Board for a total for school operations of $15,507,134.

This is where school officials take exception with the supervisors’ resolution.

They believe the way the resolution breaks down funding is misleading – making it appear the county is providing the requested additional funding for the School Board’s top priorities when they actually aren’t, with only $375,000 in new money is being received, which is well below the $1.4 million sought.

In their resolution, the supervisors also note that Pulaski County is projected to collect $19,740,000 in real estate taxes for 2019-20.  In reading the resolution, County Administrator Jonathan Sweet said Pulaski County taxpayers are investing 111 percent of its real estate tax revenues to fund the Pulaski County School Board.

“It would take an 8-cent (11 percent) real estate tax increase for the county’s real estate revenues to solely fund the school system,” he said.

Sweet noted, too, that the Board of Supervisors has made multiple additional budget appropriations this year on top of a current fiscal year in which schools have been funded at the highest level ever in county history.

Sweet said those additional appropriations include $352,194 in carryover funds the school system used for capital improvement needs; $20,000 to fund the International Baccalaureate program; $22,000 and $23,000 more to pay for permits for the new middle school, and $911,000 in additional funds needed to close a shortfall so construction of the new middle school could begin for a total of $1,328,000.