With the uncertainty of what the state's future plans for public education are, Macon County's Board of Education is once again turning to commissioners to fill the void left by state budget cuts. Each year, the school system develops a capital outlay budget to address maintenance concerns in the district.
While general statute identifies public education to be a state responsibility, there are exceptions to the rule, such as infrastructure and maintenance to buildings, that fall under the county's responsibility. In order to meet those needs, year after year the county has designated a pocket of money known as capital outlay specifically designated to infrastructure renovations and development.
Over the years, due to the economy and other financial struggles, the capital outlay budget has been drastically reduced from $700,000 annually to around $250,000 in the last two years, with it being eliminated entirely in 2010-11. While the county approved a quarter of a million dollars last year, the Board of Education is hopeful that the county will continue its commitment to education, and is requesting $347,035 for the 2013-2014 budget year.
Each year, the Board of Education solicits capital outlay requests from every principal in the district, and after compiling a list of all requests, the board discusses the requests and prioritizes the list. During their budget work session last Thursday, board members evaluated each request and narrowed the list to 21 items totaling $347,035.
Among the items requested, the largest is $75,000 for the HVAC unit in the 6th grade wing at Macon Middle School. A project that has been discussed for a couple of years, the renovations will bring the air unit for the band, chorus, guidance, and cafeteria area up to standard.
Other costly requests are $40,000 to replace the outdated sound system at the Fine Arts Center at Franklin High School, and $30,000 to replace the windows at Franklin High School. A similar project has just been completed at other schools in the district. According to FHS Principal Dr. Chris Baldwin, the windows need to be replaced because of safety concerns.
“Several of the windows are broken, and last year we had two accidents that I can remember that occurred because of the condition of the windows, one was a broken bone and the other a pretty severe cut,” said Baldwin.
Other capital outlay requests varied from $23,000 for a new Driver's Education car because the current one is operating with extremely high miles, to $29,000 to replace outdated and pieced together lawnmowers for several schools in the district.
Among some of the smaller capital outlay requests was $4,000 to remove broken and unused lockers at Franklin High School and $2,500 for several vacuum cleaners to be used at various schools.
This year, the Board of Education is hoping to secure some additional capital outlay monies specifically designated to school safety. With the recent tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. county and school officials have been working with the Sheriff's Office to take extra precautionary measures to ensure that Macon County Schools are as safe as possible.
While Sheriff Robbie Holland has asked commissioners to consider funding School Resource Officers at each school in the district, due to the significant reoccurring annual cost, commissioners have looked at other cost effective ways to bump up school security.
Items that would ordinarily be considered capital outlay such as door locks and school bus cameras, are separate from the general capital outlay budget and designated as safety concerns. From the board discussion on Thursday, the general consensus was to hold off including those items in the capital outlay request while waiting to see what funds commissioners are going to provide specifically for overall school safety improvements.
Board of Education Chairman Jim Breedlove suggested that the board considered requesting a contingency capital outlay line item this year, that would allow the school system some flexibility. The way funds are currently allocated, the Board of Education develops a capital outlay budget requested with a specific line item and designated funds. In the event that priorities change during the school year, and capital outlay funds needed to be shifted to other more pressing projects, the Board of Education would first have to approve the budget amendment, then the board would send the request to the Board of Commissioners for their approval.
Breedlove suggested that funds be requested in a contingency line item that would allow the board to use funds for smaller projects as needed, without having to go to commissioners for final approval. He suggested requesting $25,000 to begin the contingency fund in the first year.