COVINGTON --The Newton County Board of Education approved a tentative budget that is nearly 3 percent higher than last school year's budget.
During its regular monthly meeting Tuesday, the school board unanimously approved the tentative budget, which totals $145,412,382, including $135,349,243 to be used for expenditures and $10,063,139 to be kept in a reserve fund. The expenditures are $3,768,492, or 2.86 percent, greater than last school year's budget.
Dr. Dennis Carpenter, deputy superintendent of Operation, previously said that expenditures have increased mainly because of increases in state retirement and health benefits, as well as increases in transportation and additions to the Newton County Theme School and the Newton College and Career Academy.
During a special called meeting earlier in the day Tuesday to discuss the budget, Carpenter said moving to a three-tiered bus system as NCSS did this school year did not save as much as originally expected because of the extra hours that bus drivers have to drive. Since about 50 transportation positions were cut this school year, however, health insurance costs did not increase as much as they could have if they had more employees.
According to the line-item budget presented during the special called meeting, salary expenditures for bus drivers will increase $478,231 to be more in line with what was spent this school year.
Carpenter said the transportation department expects to make routes more efficient next school year to see more savings.
Also in the special called meeting, the board discussed with system officials the savings that could be realized by adding one or two more students per classroom at the request of School Board Chair Eddie Johnson.
Carpenter presented the board with a chart that showed how increasing classes by one student -- or having between 22 and 32 students per class -- could save more than $2 million in the budget by eliminating 41 teachers in elementary and middle schools; about $300,000 could be saved at the high school level by eliminating a few more teachers, he said.
Increasing student classes by two students -- or having between 23 and 33 students per class -- could save about $3 million by eliminating about 60 teachers across all grade levels.
Johnson said he was hoping to pass the savings on to principals at the building level, for extra payment for graduation coaches or to help offset six furlough days this school year or decreased retirement funding.
"From a corporate standpoint, we need better productivity," Johnson said in the meeting, adding that newer technology and procedures added each school year should better aid teachers.
Carpenter informed Johnson that teacher contracts already have been given out, and about half of any vacant positions have been filled, so any plans to decrease that many staff would likely have to be done next school year.
None of the other school board members commented on the topic.
The budget can change until the school board is scheduled to adopt a final budget on June 19 during a combined work session and regular session monthly meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the board room at the Newton County BOE building at 2109 Newton Drive NE in Covington.
From June 26 through July 17, the school board may hold public hearings related to the millage rate for next year. The board plans to adopt a millage rate on July 17 -- it is expected to increase to 21.90 from 21.073, including 20 mills for maintenance and operations and an estimated 1.9 for debt services, which would be an increase from 1.073.
No other special called meetings or public hearings have been announced.