Bus driver salaries and Cyclone Center highlight ECS budget issues

By Thomas Wilson

   Compliance with federal labor laws will likely require Elizabethton City Schools to pay its bus drivers by the hour rather than per trip as has been past policy.
   ECS Director of Finance Cynthia Roberts advised Board of Education members the system must revise its fee schedules for extra bus trips to comply with federal minimum wage requirements during a budget workshop on Thursday night.
   "It is probably going to cost us more money than what the flat fee would," she told board members. "Employees must be paid by the hour."
   Previously, ECS paid a flat fee to a bus driver for transporting students to designated cities and counties throughout the region. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires every non-exempt public and private employee be paid at least the minimum wage of $5.15 per hour.
   The BOE gathered Thursday night to hear budget requests from school principals and system administrators. Paramount of concern to Superintendent Dr. David Roper is the continued operation of the system's Cyclone Center.
   "Our most urgent concern is putting together a funding package plus finding a facility to house the program," said ECS Superintendent Dr. David Roper.
   The Early Childhood Program has operated at an office space on Bemberg Road -- known as the Cyclone Center -- leased from Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA) since 2000. However, MSHA officials have given the system notice they wish to terminate the lease by July 1 to open up additional space for physicians' offices.
   Operational costs for the Early Childhood Learning Program have been funded with a combination of state, local and federal grant funds for more than four years. A primary funding source the Goals 2000 grant expires this year. The program provides preschool learning for dozens of children.
   Roper said school system administrators were consulting with state department officials in an effort to reallocate existing funds and new state funds available to defray loss of Goals 2000 grant. An infusion of new dollars could come from the Tennessee Lottery Education Corporation once state lottery proceeds began being distributed.
   "There is an indication there may be some lottery funds available in future years to fund some of these pre-K programs like the Cyclone Center," Roper said.
   A portion of revenue raised from the Tennessee lottery is dedicated to early childhood education programs throughout the state. However, Roper added significant lottery-based funding was at least one year away.
   Several requests presented to the BOE on Thursday night were submitted by school and system administrators last year. Requests made by each school principal are as follows:
   East Side Elementary
   * $90,000 estimated to remove carpet from the school building and replace with tile.
   * $375,000 estimated to construct two additional classrooms. The request asked for a music room similar to that of West Side Elementary and the second being a lab room as required under the school's status as a Title I school. Both requests were submitted to the board last year.
   West Side Elementary
   * $11,988 estimated to replace all 148 lockers in the school. The request was submitted last year based on an estimate of $81 per locker.
   * $7,200 to replace window blinds for 10 classrooms based on a cost of $720 per room.
   T.A. Dugger Junior High School
   * $29,865 to resurface and line the school's outdoor track.
   * $5,200 to replace carpet in the school's portable classrooms.
   * $5,947 combined to fund two part-time personnel positions.
   Elizabethton High School
* Replacement of kitchen cabinets in the Home Economics classroom due to termite infestation. The request estimated the project could be done in-house for $8,000 and $12,500 if bid out.
   * $11,717 to purchase a band instrument storage container to replace the existing cabinet.
   The sole request submitted by Principal John Hutchins of Harold McCormick Elementary asked for an allocation of $2,000 for furniture and fixtures for the school's new classrooms. System maintenance director, Richard Hodge, requested $120,000 to place 20 HVAC units at the school. Mary Ann Williams, director of the ECS Child Nutrition Program, also requested installation of a walk-in freezer and cooler at Harold McCormick totaling $14,500.
   Another budget workshop has been scheduled for March 25 immediately following BOE's regular monthly meeting. Roper added that administrators would be working to finalize the system's budget and funding request to the City of Elizabethton by April 1.