ECS brass hoping insurance costs on way down

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   After relentless rises in health insurances costs for Elizabethton City Schools, more than 300 employees and the system's finance chief hopes to see a downward trend in coming years.
   "The insurance is not going to be as expensive as they have in the past, so we might get a break in that respect," ECS Director of Finance Cynthia Roberts told Board of Education members at a second budget workshop held shortly after the Board of Education meeting on Thursday night.
   According to a cost analysis provided by Roberts, health insurance costs for the system's more than 300 employees jumped 26.4 percent in the 2003 fiscal year and 25.1 percent in the 2004 fiscal year. For the coming fiscal year, the system expects only a modest jump of 10 percent - roughly $201,000 - in health insurance costs, Roberts said.
   Total insurance costs for the system exceeded $1.1 million in 2002 with health insurance comprising roughly $999,000 of that number. Insurance costs for the system were over $1.3 million last year.
   Roberts also laid out four scenarios of pay increases for the system's certified and non-certified personnel. Pay raises ranging from 2 percent to 5 percent could cost the system an additional $657,472 to $1,091,563. Gov. Phil Bredesen has indicated the state could provide a one-time 1 percent pay bonus for teachers in the state's Basic Education Program that funds public education.
   The state's BEP formula to distribute education funds is not set until the General Assembly passes its budget in June. Roberts said the system would not know its exact amount of BEP dollars until July.
   "We do get BEP dollars for salaries, but our expenditures are far in advance of what we get in BEP dollars," Roberts told board members.
   The system received approximately $6.8 million from BEP funding for the 2004 fiscal year and $2,332,000 from the city of Elizabethton for the past three fiscal years. Property and sales tax revenues for the city have shown marginal increases in recent years translating to a fixed appropriation from the city.
   Roberts also laid out capital project expenditures recommended by the ECS administration totaling $423,222 based on budget requests submitted by each school at the March 12 workshop. The capital project recommendations East Side Elementary projects included $75,000 to replace carpet with tile inside the East Side Elementary school building and $36,200 to replace a portion of the building's roof.
   The capital project recommendations for Elizabethton High School included $8,000 to replace kitchen cabinets in the Home Economics classroom due to termite infestation, $24,000 to replace four HVAC units in the school, and $24,000 to purchase winches for basketball goals in the gymnasium.
   The largest single capital expenditure item recommended was $205,650 to replace a large portion of the roof at West Side Elementary. The capital budget also recommended replacing the 148 student lockers at West Side at an estimated cost of $11,988.
   Other capital project recommendations included $5,200 to carpet portable classrooms, $16,000 to restore eaves around the building, and $11,184 for sanding and refinishing the gym floor all at T.A. Dugger Junior High School.
   Roberts said the projects could be financed with leftover county capital and BEP dollars available in the system's budget plus estimated BEP dollars next year.
   Board members and administrators agreed the system should put out bids for the projects immediately, given the warm weather climate of summer required to complete the projects.
   Sams announced an unexpected cost savings at the board meeting. He advised the board that the Tennessee School Boards Association had waived its $7,500 cost to ECS for the superintendent search service that brought Roper to Elizabethton. Sams indicated that given the TSBA's cherry picking of past ECS superintendents, waiving the fee was a pleasant surprise.
   "I guess we whined and moaned and groaned enough that they have stolen our superintendents all the time," Sams quipped.