A part of the 2019-20 budget is determining how Monroe County schools will handle the $3,000 raise the state announced for teachers. Although the legislature is giving local school boards appropriations to help fund the raises, it is up to local boards to determine exactly how to use that money. The state is funding the raise for 275 certified positions in Monroe County, but Monroe County Board of Education plans to extend the $3,000 raise to about 350 employees, including administrators.

Assistant Superintendent Jackson Daniel said that because Georgia gives local boards flexibility in spending state money as they see fit, that part of the budget is not a simple calculation. Teachers’ salaries are based on experience, length of service (step raises), educational degrees, assignment (such as special education) and such factors.

“There is really no state scale any more because of the strategic waiver,” said Daniel. “The pay scale is exactly the same as 2016-17 [for certified teachers].”

Besides the $3,000 annual increase for teachers, Daniel recommended adding $3,000 to each step on the pay scale for administrators and adding 2 percent to the salaries of clerical employees, the Title 1 Parent Involvement Specialist, nurses, bus drivers and bus monitors. There would be no change in athletic coaching supplements or substitute teacher pay. Pay for substitutes increased last year and a study on coaching supplements is planned for next year.

Monroe County BOE is working to set a $44 million budget for 2019-20. It held one meeting for public input on June 18 and the final meeting for public input on Tuesday, June 25. No one attended to comment.

The school system’s budget runs from July to June; so even though local millage rates aren’t set and it is still hiring some personnel, it must make a good guess at how much revenue it can expect to come in and how much money it will need to pay its expenses.

 Daniel gave the board a first look at the general fund budget on May 28. He said that 88 to 89 percent of the expenses are for salaries and benefits for school system employees. The Teacher Retirement System contribution from the school system increased from 20.9 percent of gross salary to 21.14 percent. Property insurance is expected to increase because of hurricane damage.

Daniel said when the state promised teacher pay raises in 2016-17 Monroe County began giving an extra check to teachers on Jan. 15 to cover it because BOE did not know if it would be able to sustain the raise. It has, and the amount is now a part of base pay. Because teachers say they like getting the check in January, the system has continued to pay that way. Daniel emphasized that the January check is not a bonus. 

He said Monroe County has earned $26.3 million from the state for next year based on enrollment and other factors. That amount can increase midyear if the student count grows. Daniel said it looks like revenue from local taxes will go up $1.4 million because of increased property values, primarily new construction. 

At the June 11 meeting, Daniel recommended a 5 percent increase for paraprofessionals. At the May 28 meeting he had recommended 9 percent for paraprofessionals, but he said 9 percent caused a problem with federal funds that pay some of the paraprofessionals.

“The 9 percent increase shot holes in our federal budget. We can mitigate it with a 5 percent increase,” said Daniel. “We pledge to pick up the rest of it next year. 5 percent is still higher than the 2 percent for others in the system. Now the top pay will be $17.42 per hour instead of $18.50 per hour.”

Board member Greg Head had encouraged the school system to find a way to substantially increase the salaries of paraprofessionals because of their importance in the classroom. He also asked that Monroe County Schools increase the pay scale for clerical employees because of how much their jobs have changed. Daniel said he has initiated a salary study for clerical employees, comparing their pay in other school systems.

Superintendent Dr. Mike Hickman noted that the base number of hours for bus drivers was increased from four to five hours last year, substantially giving them a 20 percent raise. 

“Do you expect any millage increase?” asked board member Stuart Pippin.

Daniel said he does not anticipate asking for a millage increase but there may be a tax increase because of growth in the digest.

“I would be very surprised to see a rollback,” said Daniel.

He said to cut expenses, Monroe County schools would have to cut people. Since BOE has to have a budget by July 1 but the tax digest will not be available until at least six weeks after that, there is a lot of guessing at how much revenue there will be. The state sets have no local control over them. 

The 2019-20 budget projects $43 million in revenue and $44.2 million in expenses. The system has a $3.5 million fund equity to carry it through the beginning of the year before taxes are collected.