The Forsyth County Board of Education voted 5-0 on Thursday to approve a $285.9 million budget for 2014.
To cover the cost of the spending plan, which includes a 2 percent raise for all employees, the system plans to shift more than $11 million from its fund balance, or reserves.
“What we’re counting on is the digest is going to grow,” said Chief Finance Officer Dan Jones after the meeting. “We’re probably going to end up with more students, based on what we see is happening in the county, and we will get a midterm adjustment that’s probably more than what we’re budgeting for.”
The approved budget shows an expenditure increase of about $11 million over last year. About $7 million of that comes from adding more than 80 new teaching positions and 15 bus drivers, according to Jones. Mandatory health care expenses also have added about $2.4 million in expenses.
The budget was originally presented with about a $7.1 million shortfall. But after some discussion, school board members agreed to offer a 2 percent pay increase to staff members at a cost of about $4 million.
Last year, the system gave a 1 percent increase. Prior to that, employees had gone four years without a raise, Jones said.
A suggestion to restore three days previously removed from the school year didn’t stick. Jones noted that doing so would have required changing the approved calendar for next year. In addition, it could have proved more costly to the district through salaries, utilities, buses and other costs.
Roche also noted that adding days could give staff three more days of pay, but also translates into “three days more of work.”
“Are we trying to reward them for the work they’ve done and let them catch up a bit?” she asked. “I really want to reward them for a job well done and go from there.”
Despite the 2 percent increase, Superintendent Buster Evans said staff members likely would take home smaller paychecks because of the rise in health care and Social Security costs.
“lf you decided to give 3 or 4 percent, they would [still] exceed that,” Evans said.
During the meeting Thursday, the school board also had the option to raise the millage rate, or rate by which property taxes are calculated.
But in a 3-2 vote, with members Tom Cleveland and Ann Crow dissenting, the board decided to keep the maintenance and operations millage rate the same as last year at 16.3 mills.
The millage rate is part of a formula used to calculate property taxes, where one mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value.
Both Cleveland and Crow showed interest in increasing to the 16.368 mills rollback rate, which offsets the losses in property values to ensure tax collections remain constant.
“Even though it’s called a rollback, it’s still a tax increase,” said member Nancy Roche. “If your assessed value does not change, you will be paying more.”
The increase would have garnered about a $500,000, which Cleveland said would give the school board “security.”
Crow agreed. “I still think we ought to consider the rollback,” she said.
With the millage rate not changing, the system’s reserves could dip below a comfortable range.
For the 2013 budget, the board approved taking $8 million from the system’s fund balance. But Jones said more state money came in when the local student population grew midyear.
With that extra money, Jones said the net negative impact to reserves stood to be less than $3 million, leaving the system with about $43 million to $45 million in reserves at the end of the fiscal year.
In planning for the 2014 budget, Jones advised the board not to “drop down below about $35, $38 million.”
However, with the 2 percent raises and additional costs this year, shifting $11 million from reserves could leave about $34 million in the fund.
Jones said a continued increase in enrollment likely would help cover some of that.
“When you do a budget, it’s just your best projection of what’s going to happen next year,” Jones said after the meeting. “So the board is just making their best judgment on what they think is going to happen.”