City schools to amend tight budget, waiting on state

By Julie Fann
star staff

The Elizabethton City School board on Monday held a special meeting to amend its proposed 2002-2003 budget so that city school personnel will continue to receive family health insurance coverage. Due to increased insurance premiums and the state's budget delays, the school board must pull from already tight accounts to guarantee health benefits for city schools' employees.
   "It's a very, very tight budget. We have tried to make sure that we don't cut classroom instruction," said city schools financial director, Cynthia Roberts. Roberts said because insurance costs have risen by 30 percent over the past two years, family health coverage for approximately 62 city schools personnel was in jeopardy. "We pay 100 percent of the insurance costs for the employee and 58 percent for family members. We just need to adjust numbers to guarantee this will continue," she said.
   The board will discuss, over the next two days, the possibility of cutting its transportation fund by $23,500 and pulling funds from its tuition reserves. The board addressed the fact that no grants will be renewed for the coming fiscal year and that county capital remains the same as last year.
   School board members also debated whether moving from a state health insurance policy which includes PPO, POS, and HMO plans, to a private plan for employees might be more affordable. "I'm afraid that might be jumping from the frying pan into the fire, though," said city school board Chairman, Jonathan Bremer.
   The current proposed city school budget for all funds for 2002-2003 is $14,735,094, down from $15,199,992 last year. In addition, Roberts explained that, if the state approves the DOGs budget (Downsizing Ongoing Government Services) proposed by Gov. Sundquist, the Elizabethton city schools budget faces a $1.2 million cut. The proposed budget includes a 2.5 percent salary increase for certified and classified employees as well as a 2.5 percent increase for departmental chairs and coaching supplements.
   The board will reconvene on Wednesday to approve the budget just in time for the City Charter submission deadline the same day. Elizabethton Education Association representative, Sam Greenwell, said that he and others were working to get some language changes made to the city teacher's contract regarding layoffs and recall in lieu of state funding. "We don't want to lose what we have because that would cause our student-teacher ratio to go up," he said.