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School budget passes
Zehr opposes spending plan

Friday, March 29, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Henry County School Board on Thursday approved the superintendent’s proposed $71,539,943 operating budget for fiscal year 2013-14.

Ridgeway District board member Francis Zehr voted against the spending plan, citing a number of reasons.

For one thing, no money was included for random drug testing, he said. “I wasn’t happy about that.”

In January, the school board approved a motion by Zehr directing schools Superintendent Jared Cotton and his staff to research and develop a possible policy for drug testing of students who participate in extracurricular activities for the school board to consider.

“This would not be implemented until the 2013-14 school year,” Zehr stated of his proposal in a memo at the time. “Thank goodness we do not have a serious drug problem in the Henry County School System and by being proactive we can keep it that way.”

Cotton said Thursday “it would have been premature” for him to include money for drug testing in the coming year because he has not yet presented his research and recommendation on the subject to the school board, and the board hasn’t decided what direction it wants to go on that issue. He said he plans to report to the school board about that at the board’s May meeting.

The major cost of a drug testing program would be staffing, Cotton said.

If the school board decides it wants to proceed with drug testing, finding funds would be a challenge in fiscal 2013-14, Cotton said, or the board could begin drug testing in a future year.

Zehr also said Thursday during the meeting and in an interview that, in light of last year’s staff cutbacks in the county schools, he is reluctant to support hiring some of the full-time non-teaching positions proposed in the superintendent’s 2013-14 budget, but might support those as part-time positions.

Zehr said he was talking about the proposed hiring of an administrative intern at Carver Elementary and a clerical position to be shared between the human resources and budget/finance departments.

He said he “supports 100 percent” the proposal to provide funds to contract with Henry County Sheriff’s Office to provide three additional school resource officers to cover elementary schools. Also, Zehr said he doesn’t object to the proposed hiring, under transportation, of a special population driver and aide, if needed.

A third reason Zehr said he was voting no was because he thinks stipends for extracurricular coaches that were reduced in 2010-11 should be restored. He suggested the money needed to do that (perhaps $50,000) could come from hiring less costly personnel to succeed several educators who will retire at the end of the school year.

Zehr, a retired teacher, said during the meeting and in an interview that he was “very, very conservative” in estimating that enough money could be saved that way to pay the stipends. He added that he has a lot of experience working with budgets during his 16 years as a member of the Henry County Board of Supervisors. He used a “step” in the middle of the teacher salary scale for 2013-14 to make that calculation, he said.

However, it is difficult to predict whether there would be savings in replacing retiring personnel, Cotton responded. It could happen, but “we want to hire the best person” for the job, he said. “We don’t want to limit ourselves.”

Earlier in the meeting, Zehr said, and Cotton concurred, that no one will receive a raise under the school division’s 2013-14 budget. Cotton said that salary adjustments approved by the school board after it approved the fiscal 2012-13 budget to help offset mandated employee retirement contributions are not raises.

Iriswood District school board member Curtis Millner Sr. said he does not think this is the time to restore coaching stipends because no one with the school division is receiving a raise.

Millner said the school division’s most important duty is to educate children, though he said he realizes that students involved in extracurricular activities generally do better in school.

Zehr said he’s not talking about a raise for extracurricular (academic and athletic) coaches, but rather restoring the stipends that were reduced in 2010-11.

As an example of a coach, Zehr mentioned Sgt. 1st Class John Truini, the JROTC coach at Magna Vista High School, whose teams have won several state championships in recent years.

When Cotton presented his proposed 2013-14 budget March 21, Millner said that if the school division were to receive significant funding that it doesn’t expect, the school board should seriously consider giving a one-time bonus to employees.

Collinsville District School Board member Kathy Rogers pointed out during the discussion Thursday that there is a 10 percent increase in health insurance premiums in the 2013-14 budget. Cotton previously estimated the 10 percent increase will cost the division $459,107.

Rogers also praised Cotton and his staff for their diligence in preparing the proposed budget. “I’ve been on the board eight years. I don’t ever remember it being easy,” she said.

A number of division officials said the good news about the proposed budget is that no positions are being eliminated, unlike the 2012-13 budget.

Board Chairman Joe DeVault, member at-large, said some school divisions are closing schools. “We’ve been able to avoid that at least,” he said.

DeVault; Rogers; Millner; Betsy Mattox, who represents the Reed Creek District and is board vice chairman; and Terri Flanagan, who represents the Horsepasture District, voted to approve the proposed budget. Rudy Law, who represents the Blackberry District, did not attend. DeVault noted that Law’s mother recently died.

The $71,539,943 operating budget for FY 2013-14 is up $1,307,132 or 1.86 percent compared with the $70,232,811 budget the county school board approved in the spring of 2012.

The 2013-14 operating budget includes a request for $16,844,238 in county funds, which is an increase of about $266,343 or 1.61 percent.


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