COVINGTON -- The Newton County Board of Education has passed a final budget for next school year, but some changes still may be to come.
The school board passed a nearly $149.5 million budget for the 2013-14 school year, which begins July 1, at its monthly meeting Tuesday.
Peggy Bullard, business manager for the Newton County School System, reported Tuesday that tax revenues for the current school year already exceed the budgeted amount by more than $1.7 million with more than 91 percent of the school year complete.
"We will likely exceed budgeted collections by more than $2 million before the year is done," she said.
Next school year's beginning fund balance now is expected to be more than $15.6 million.
Expenditures for the current school year also are down, at just 89 percent with 91 percent of the year completed; Bullard said it will be closer to 100 percent when the school year ends but still should end up less than 100 percent.
She added that the tax digest is down, as expected, but not as much as anticipated. System officials originally budgeted for the digest to drop 6 percent, but it will drop only 5.26 percent.
Still, the drop forces the system to lose more than $2 million in tax revenues next school year. The digest has dropped between 3 and 10-plus percent over the previous four years, resulting in tax losses of between $2 and more than $4.5 million each year.
The board has been considering changes to transportation for the Ombudsman alternative school and also the addition or rearranging of nurses, but did not come to a conclusion at Tuesday's meeting for either topic.
Currently, it costs about $113,000 to operate the Ombudsman bus, which services 43 students at three pick-up and drop-off points at various times of the day to accommodate the varying Ombudsman schedule. One eight-hour bus driver runs the route.
NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews recently reported to the board that the Newton County Sheriff's Office responds almost daily to sometimes extreme fights on the bus, so he recommended that the board hire a bus monitor, which would cost about $24,000 annually, or discontinue the service completely, like many other school systems around the state have done for alternative schools.
Board member Shakila Henderson-Baker suggested that the system consolidate two drop-off locations to one, but school officials said that would save only a minimal amount on fuel and not solve the violence problem.
Baker and fellow school board member Almond Turner asked if policies could be implemented that would prevent trouble-making students from riding the bus, and school officials said there already were policies in place that suspended students from the bus, and usually it is different students causing the problems.
School board Chair Abigail Coggin suggested using or hiring another school resource officer to ride the bus.
Some of the board members determined that it would be best to pass a budget now, since the board legally has to do so by July 1, and amend it later, once several questions have been answered by system officials.
School board member Jeff Meadors voted against the transportation budget.
The board will meet again July 16. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the board room of the Newton County BOE building, located at 2109 Newton Drive NE in Covington.
The board didn't discuss the addition or rearranging of school nurses Tuesday, but school officials noted that an additional nurse is budgeted for next school year.
The approved budget also includes four furlough days for staff, instead of the current six, and some teachers may receive a step increase because the state has a minimum salary requirement.