City BOE gets budget plan tonight

By Thomas Wilson

   Administrators of Elizabethton City Schools will tonight roll out the system's 2004-2005 budget - that includes a $596,000 general fund deficit - as the Board of Education gets its first opportunity to approve spending measures for the next fiscal year.
   The proposed general fund budget comes in at $13.5 million representing a 1.9 percent increase over last year. General fund revenues are projected at $13 million while expenditures exceed $13.5 million resulting in a projected deficit of $596,000. The shortfall means a substantial dip into the system's $1.4 million general fund balance is required to balance the budget.
   The proposed ECS budget includes a $2,332,000 allocation from the city of Elizabethton. The city will also continue to pay the salary and benefits totaling $42,720 for the student resource officer at Elizabethton High School. ECS administrators estimate state funding through the Basic Education Plan formula at just over $7 million, representing a 2 percent increase over last year.
   Teachers and staff members are slated to receive a 2 percent increase on total salary plus a 1 percent bonus on all employees' base salary. Gov. Phil Bredesen included the one-time 1 percent pay bonus for teachers in his budget proposal to the legislature.
   For the coming fiscal year, system administrators projected a modest jump of 10 percent - roughly $201,000 - in health insurance costs and a 23 percent hike in life insurance premiums. According to a cost analysis provided by the system's finance department, health insurance costs for the system's 300 employees jumped 26.4 percent in the 2003 fiscal year and 25.1 percent in the 2004 fiscal year.
   The system received a $6.8 million allocation through BEP for the 2004 fiscal year. The city's allocation has been fixed at the $2,332,000 amount for the past three years.
   The proposed ECS budget includes $765,000 in project capital expenditures for the coming school year. The largest single capital expenditure items projected are $262,000 to construct a media center at T.A. Dugger Junior High. An additional $241,850 is projected for roof repairs at both West Side and East Side elementary schools.
   Other capital items include electronically controlled basketball goals at EHS and East Side ($26,600 combined), and $49,000 to replace carpeting with tile at East Side and T.A. Dugger.
   The proposed budget also includes a revised fee schedule for school bus drivers transporting city students for extracurricular school activities such as field trips and athletic events. Drivers will now be paid $5.50 per hour during extra bus trips. For any single trip, the assigned driver will receive no less than $10.
   Previously, ECS paid a flat fee to city bus drivers 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. Bus drivers are also eligible for overtime if they exceed 40 hours during a workweek while driving extra bus trips.
   The system's federal projects revenues expect to climb roughly $450,000 from last year from $1.3 million to $1.7 million with more federal dollars coming into the Title I and IDEA funding.
   Teachers' salaries represent nearly 50 percent of expenditures for federal projects. Four special education assistant positions were added at East Side Elementary to meet federal guidelines in assisting special needs students. ECS administrators typically do not know the actual amount of state dollars distributed through the BEP funding formula until the General Assembly passes its budget in June.