COVINGTON -- Newton County School System employees will see a little more money in their paychecks for the rest of the school year.
During a special called planning meeting on Monday, the Newton County Board of Education approved a pay increase equal to two days of pay this year for all NCSS employees.
This school year's employee calendar included six furlough days, and although the increase amount will be equal to two of those days, employees won't have to work those days.
The school board met to discuss plans of what to do, if anything, with an unexpected $4.4 million that NCSS planned to carry over from last school year's budget due to a $2 million savings from the system's maintenance and operations department and some other savings.
School board member Eddie Johnson was the only member who voted against the motion. He would have preferred the school board approve the system contribute $10 more per month toward employee health insurance (since December 2010, employees no longer receive any NCSS contribution toward their health insurance premium) and increase retirement plan contributions for the next two years, since those contributions have been reduced to half a percent for 2011. He also wanted to give teachers $100 each to use on classroom supplies.
Other board members were concerned with using the extra money for those reasons because they felt that employees could choose how they wanted to spend their extra income instead of having to use it for health insurance, which they all may not use, or retirement, which they would be required to match.
The board also had considered giving step increases to employees, but school board Chair Almond Turner said he would rather give back money in the form of furlough days in case the system needed to keep the furlough days intact next school year in the event of more budget reductions.
Board members did stress that they plan to revisit the topic next year when they look at employee calendar options.
The option would take about $822,000 from the general fund budget. The money will be prorated to employee checks for the rest of the school year -- an average teacher will see about a $40 increase in net monthly pay, according to Sherri Davis-Viniard, director of Public Relations at NCSS.
The board didn't make any plans for the remaining $3.5 million in extra funding carried over this school year in anticipation of future unexpected expenses.
"We're trying to do our best but be conservative as well," school board member Abigail Coggin said, adding that teachers she has talked to prefer to receive the furlough days back instead of programs being taken away or other cuts. "Three months ago, we were looking at not having $4 million. I don't mind playing with $1 million of the $4 million and keeping the rest. It's an olive branch for our teachers ... but our hands are tied."
The system projects to have about $14 million as an ending fund balance at the end of this school year even with the pay increase included in the figure. Next school year, the projected ending fund balance would be about $7 million, or just under two weeks of operating expenses, if all revenues and expenditures remain the same.
The end of the 2013-14 school year would only have an ending fund balance of $190,727, not even a full day of operating expenses, if all were to remain the same as this year.
NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews said he was hesitant about using the funds for fear of future budget cuts. NCSS Deputy Superintendent of Operations Dennis Carpenter said he has budgeted conservatively and that local and state figures could increase in the future, as they did this year.
"Right now, we are in the most dire of economic situations ... so it's hard to say what's going to really happen," Turner said.