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Newton BOE agrees on teacher pay increase

COVINGTON — The Newton County Board of Education approved moving forward with a tentative budget for next year that includes providing teachers with a 2 percent pay increase and removing one furlough day.

During Tuesday’s work session, Newton County School System’s Business Manager Peggy Bullard presented board members with four options related to teacher salaries and benefits. She asked the BOE to vote on one of the options, since it would have an impact on the proposed 2014-15 budget that must be approved by July 1.

“Our recommendation is chart C,” said Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey. “It is more aggressive, but not the most aggressive.”

The four options were first discussed during a budget work session held May 5. During that meeting, Bullard presented a proposed budget for fiscal year 2015, which would run from July 1 to June 30.

The 2015 budget anticipates a $6.5 million increase in state revenue and a 3 percent increase in the local tax digest with the millage rate remaining at 20 mills. If approved, the 2015 budget would be $163,350,580, an increase over the current fiscal year’s budget of $157,655,751. Under this budget, the beginning fund balance would grow from $18.84 million to a projected $19.26 million.

With the expected increase in revenue, Bullard and Fuhrey proposed adding 12.5 new positions and offered board members options to increase pay and benefits for teachers.

The most conservative option — which was accounted for in the proposed budget presented by Bullard — would be to provide a 1 percent salary schedule increase, a step increase for eligible employees and one additional work day, removing one of the four remaining furlough days.

Building in anticipated increases for health insurance costs and step increases for the next two budget cycles ending in 2017, the budget would grow by about $2 million each year. The ending fund balance would be $17.28 million in 2015-16 and $13.88 million in fiscal year 2016-17. Bullard said that even though this pay plan would erode the fund balance some, it would still be considered healthy, retaining more than the $10 million the school system likes to maintain.

The second option is more generous, offering a 2 percent increase in the salary schedule, a step increase and removing two furlough days.

This proposal would move the 2014-15 expenditures from $144 million to $145.5 million. The budget would increase by approximately $2.5 million each year through fiscal year 2017 and the ending fund balance would drop to about $9.67 million by that year.

Fuhrey had suggested the board consider a hybrid to the two pay options and prepared a spreadsheet outlining the four options for consideration at Tuesday’s work session.

Fuhrey’s recommendation of chart C on Tuesday reflected one of the hybrid approaches – offering a 2 percent pay increase, one additional day and step increases. This option anticipates an ending fund balance of $18.31 million at the end of 2015.

The fourth option would have offered teachers a 1 percent salary increase, two additional days and step increases. This would have left the fund balance at $18.8 million by the end of the fiscal year.

Board member Eddie Johnson made a motion that the board adopt the second option, which was the most generous with a 2 percent increase, two furlough days removed and step increases.

The motion failed due to lack of a second.

Abigail Coggin then made a motion to accept the third option – as recommended by Fuhrey – which passed 4-1 with Johnson voting against it.

The school system will advertise the proposed 2014-15 budget for two weeks. The BOE is expected to vote on the budget during its June 3 meeting.