BY KARISSA MILLER
Iredell-Statesville Schools Superintendent Jeff James presented an approximately $46.6 million local operating expense budget for 2021-2022 during Monday’s school board meeting.
The proposal calls for a $1.2 million increase in spending (2.7 percent) over the current budget.
“We don’t have a crystal ball, but this is probably one of the most advantageous budgets for our employees that you have seen in the last 10 years,” James said.
The superintendent explained that restoring the local pay supplement for employees is a priority for the district. The Budget Committee has recommended a transition from a percentage-based supplement to a flat amount for I-SS certified employees. The cost of implementation would be about $463,063.
Another budget recommendation is a change in the pay step frequency for classified employees to a two-step increase every three years. Currently, the pay step rate is a two-step increase every five years. The cost of implementation would be about $270,500.
District bus drivers are also slated for a pay increase to a minimum of $13.50 per hour, which will cost a total of $37,050. James said that he would like to see bus drivers earn $15 per hour.
The superintendent said the remainder of the budget’s focus is on spending money in the classroom and on resources for students.
The Budget Committee is recommending hiring 25 part-time teacher assistants for “high needs” elementary schools in an effort to close third-grade reading gaps.
Other highlights include:
• $12,000 for I-SS mechanics tool allowance;
• $51,857 for an interpreter;
• $70,900 for maintenance increases;
• $84,890 for online teaching stipend;
• $84,932 for contracting substitutes;
• $92,562 for an assistant principal position at Shepherd Elementary;
• $100,000 for legal fees;
• $245,040 for covering employee raises and benefit costs;
• $320,000 for reduced revenues that the I-SS budget is estimated to absorb;
• $498,355 for six nurses moved back to GEERS; and
• $664,365 for anticipated reductions in student population or Average Daily Membership.
School officials have not received state ADM figures, but the above estimate is based on the district’s 2020-2021 ADM figures.
During the budget journey, James said, the district will continue to evaluate positions and get staffing levels in line with state allotments. For example, at the high school level, a school receives one teacher for every 29 students. However, if you have a class with 10 students then that teacher is being paid, most likely, out of the local budget, he explained.
“We are no longer in a time in our economy when local budget can absorb a lot of locally paid teachers,” James said.
The preliminary budget also made significant reductions in teaching staff (being paid out of the local budget), middle and high school athletics support, classified staff bonuses, transportation and new school startup costs. These reductions reflect a total savings of $2.1 million.
Along with these reductions, James pointed out that three central office positions didn’t get filled this school year at a savings of $375,000.
Other staff reductions may be made based on student enrollment figures, which determines how much state funding the district will receive.
In the coming days, I-SS officials will receive news about how much federal CARES money the district will receive. James estimates that it will be around $12 million, which will be spread out over three years and be earmarked for certain areas in the budget.
He also reminded the board that the goal with fund balance (savings account) is an equilibrium. James explained that you don’t want to put so much money away that you never give employee pay raises.
James said the board will have money revert back to fund balance at the end of this fiscal year.
Board member Bill Howell, who served on the Budget Committee, expressed his support for the local budget proposal.
“This is the first time I feel great about our budget,” Howell said. “It addresses some things I’ve been harping on for a couple of years … (like) raises for our classified people. These are things we have talked about and the superintendent has been able to do that and still have a balanced budget.”