BY DAVID FISHER
The top item for discussion during a special called School Board meeting on Monday, June 19, was the budget for the 2023-2024 school year, which involves: state mandated increases for teachers’ salaries, replacing old and failing HVAC systems, purchasing new buses, phasing out and replacing student laptop computers, and keeping student lunches low despite increased costs for operating the school system’s cafeterias.
A policy requiring every school in the Weakley County School District to have its drinking water tested for lead content, and a Student Suicide Prevention Policy were also important issues on the agenda.
2023-2024 School Year Budget
After reviewing the revenues and expenditures outlined in the 2023-2024 School Year Budget, the board passed the budget by a unanimous vote.
The total amount of revenue from all sources in the coming fiscal year amounts to an estimated $45,549,529.
“We get about $10 million in local taxes, but our budget doesn’t include any local tax increases,” Director of Weakley County Schools Jeff Cupples said.
“There are 653 teachers budgeted for the coming school year,” Cupples said. He stated that some teachers are leaving for better paying jobs at other school systems, and others are retiring, which vacates teaching positions and makes it difficult to keep those slots filled.
“In order to remain competitive with other school systems across the state and retain personnel, the 2023-2024 budget calls for increased funding for teachers,” he added.
Cupples stated, the main change in the budget from 2023 to 2024 is switching school personnel to a new funding formula, which involves replacing the BEP with the TISA (Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement).
“Due to the concentration of poverty in our county, we’re getting about $4 to $5 million more in TISA funding,” Cupples said. He stated, these funds will be used to increase teachers’ pay, rather than placing it in capital outlay. This involves a $4,000 raise for certified teachers and administrative staff.
“That will bring the starting salary for teachers up to $44,000, for those that are right out of college with zero years’ experience, and a 10 percent raise for all non-certified positions. We’re also increasing pay for our nurses, mechanics, maintenance personnel and IT technicians. Coaching stipends are increasing 5.0 to 18.0 percent. Academic club sponsors will be paid $500 to $750 in additional dollars, for those teachers willing to sponsor a club after school. Our administrators got a raise, as well.
“A new state law mandates beginning teachers’ salaries be raised gradually, so that by the 2026-2027 school year, minimum teachers’ salary must be $50,000. That’s $3 million to $4 million we have to come up with for teachers’ salaries. We want to recruit the best teachers that we can, so we’d rather not pay the bare minimum.
“We also included five positions we paid for out of an SRO grant last year. This includes social workers and interventionists. The grant has expired, but they were making a good impact, so we decided to keep them and absorb the cost within our budget,” Cupples said.
Regarding equipment purchases, he remarked, “The budget allocates $25,000 to $600,000 for purchasing student laptop computers that need to be replaced and are being cycled out.
“We purchased five school buses this past year, and the 2023-2024 budget includes purchasing two additional buses.
“The price for maintenance trucks and buses are going up. We used to purchase buses for about $100,000 each, but now, the price has increased significantly.”
Concerning building improvements, Cupples stated approximately $2 million was moved out of fund balance to pay for projects this summer. This includes purchasing 56 HVAC units for schools as needed, including Martin Primary, Greenfield and other schools. The two biggest HVAC projects include work remaining to be completed at Westview and Dresden Elementary.
He said, “The Weakley County Commission is working with us to try to make that happen.”
Cupples stated painting projects are also being carried out at all of the schools this summer.
He noted ADA compliance work is being done at Martin Middle School and sewer projects are planned.
According to Cupples, approximately $1.1 million was moved out of fund balance for these summer projects, and $300,000 is budgeted for capital outlay throughout the year.
With more-or-less price increases for everything, due to inflation, Cupples remarked, as far as costs are concerned, “Things aren’t getting any cheaper.”
Cupples added, during COVID, federal dollars made it possible to provide lunches for free. But, that has expired. This caused the school cafeteria department to be short on funds going forward. Even so, lunch prices for students will remain unchanged at $3.25, and students may apply for free or reduced lunches, if needed. Breakfast will still be free for all pre-K through 12th grade students. However, the price for adult lunches will increase.
“We’ve had donors and partners come to us and say, ‘we want to help with that debt,” Cupples said.
Regarding school supplies, he noted consumable math books, along with a companion digital version (computer program), will cost over $800,000.
District Water Testing Policy
The School Board approved the first reading of a District Water Testing Policy, which reads: “All district facilities built before January 1, 1998 shall be tested for lead in drinking water every two years.” The policy stipulates the following:
- The school district shall develop appropriate administrative procedures to facilitate this testing and necessary corrective action.
- If test results show that lead levels exceed 15 parts per billion, but are below 20 parts per billion, that building shall conduct lead level tests on an annual basis. This shall continue until tests show that the lead levels are less than 15 parts per billion.
- If test results show that lead levels equal or exceed 20 parts per billion, the school shall immediately remove the drinking water source from service. The drinking water source shall not be available for use until retesting confirms the water lead level does not exceed 20 parts per billion. If corrective action is taken, retesting shall occur within ninety (90) days.
- The Director of Schools/designee shall notify the appropriate authorities within 24 hours of a test result showing that lead levels equal or exceed 20 parts per billion. Parent(s) and or guardian(s) shall be notified within five business days of such test result.
- Additionally, if the result of a lead level test is equal to or exceeds 20 per billion, the Director of Schools/designee shall submit an online form through the Formstack site.
Student Suicide Prevention Policy
A proposed Student Suicide Prevention Policy received unanimous board approval on second and final reading.
Passage of the policy is necessary, in order to bring the School Board into compliance with state law.
According to Director of Weakley County Schools Jeff Cupples, the school system is already doing those things outlined in the policy, and approving the policy simply codifies the existing practice.
One of the most important aspects of the policy is for the director of schools to appoint a district suicide prevention coordinator responsible for planning, coordinating and monitoring the implementation of the policy. Additionally, each principal shall designate a school suicide prevention coordinator to act as a point of contact for issues relating to suicide prevention and policy implementation.
The policy requires faculty and staff to be proactive in maintaining a safe and supportive learning environment and to immediately report to the building principal any indications that a student may be in danger of harming themselves or others. Students are strongly encouraged to report if they or another student are feeling suicidal or in need of help.
Upon notification, the principal or designee shall ensure the student is placed under continuous adult supervision. The school counselor, social worker or school nurse will contact the state-contracted youth crisis service provider.
The policy also states that emergency medical services shall be contacted immediately if an in-school suicide attempt occurs.
Budget Resolutions and Transfers
The board approved adjustments in the School Nutrition Fund for FY 2022-2023, in order to reflect final annual anticipated expenditures.
Adjustments in the current budget include: an increase in the lunch payments for adults of $24,951 and an additional $73,000 in breakfast for students. Food supplies cost $46,000 more than anticipated. There were also increases for cafeteria personnel.
With no more business to discuss, the meeting adjourned.