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School board approves tentative budget
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Forsyth County News

FORSYTH COUNTY -- The Forsyth County school system’s budget was tentatively approved Thursday.

The $309.2 million budget for fiscal year 2015 reflects an increase of more than $20 million over the 2014 budget, largely due to hiring new employees, pay increases and returning three days to the school year that had previously been removed due to furloughs.

System Chief Financial Officer Dan Jones said the tentative approval is based only on an estimate of what the county’s tax digest and resulting local revenue will be.

“I don’t have a final digest so that leaves some of this up in the air,” he told the board during its Thursday meeting.

While the numbers are not finalized, they do reflect an increase in tax revenue of nearly 6 percent, or about $7.5 million, over last year, for a total of about $136.5 million.

In addition, Jones said state revenue has risen by about 12 percent, or nearly $17.5 million over last year, for a total of nearly $164.8 million.

To fund the 123 new positions for 2015, Jones said there will be an increase of about $8.3 million. Adding pay increases will cost about $3.2 million, while adding the three days back into the school calendar adds about $3.4 million. Other budget increases include about $2 million for new computer leases and $286,000 for textbooks.

Board members asked about options for including cost of living adjustment money to the budget for all employees, something that’s been done for the past two years. Last year, the increase was two percent with a one percent increase the year prior.

Before those two adjustments, teachers and staff members had gone four years without receiving a raise. Jones said a two percent pay increase would cost the system about $4.73 million, while adding a one percent increase would be about $2.36 million.

Jones said he would look into what the system can afford without dipping too far into the fund balance, or reserves, but noted that “when you add salaries and benefits, it’s not for one year. It’s there next year.”

Board member Kristin Morrissey said if raises are going to be given, “this would be the year to look at it for a variety of reasons,” including the additional money coming in from the state.

“A thing we have to consider is we have to make sure that our salaries stay competitive, because one of our goals is to...attract and keep our teachers,” she said.

As approved, the 2015 budget would already need to tap the system’s $40 million fund balance to make up nearly an $8 million deficit.

Last year’s budget also needed to pull several million from fund balance, but Rick Gunn, finance director, said “we actually put $1 million back into fund balance because revenues turned around.”

“The good thing this year is revenues have not turned down, but they also have not turned that same growth that they had last year,” he said. “So we actually will be taking from fund balance.”

A final budget is expected to be approved in June.