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Schools shortfall may force county to spend money

The Williamson County Schools Board of Education soldiered through the 2013-14 operating budget work session followed by a Special Called Board Meeting on a snowy Saturday morning March 2, which lasted about four hours. 
Important items discussed included the 2013-14 operating budget, enrollment projections and funding for capital projects. 
“The good thing is that we did as little spending as possible,” said Bobby Hullett, District 7. “There is nothing superfluous in the budget. All items represented are needs, not a wish list.” 
The 2013-14 operating budget will be about $260 million – a 2.6 percent increase compared to last year, necessitated largely by an influx of students. 
But getting to the new budget might prove challenging. The remaining funds for 2012-13 will likely fall below the three percent buffer the state requires all school systems to retain before enacting next years budget. 
“We expect to be about $8 million to $13 million short,” said Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney. 
However, Looney said that the district must wait to determine revenues at the end of the current school year to figure exact amounts and shortages.
Expenditures regarding several capital projects obtained from the district’s own pocket dating back to last fall have contributed to the shortage. The construction of performing arts centers for two high schools and two middle schools were main projects on the list. Last fall, the county commission requested that the school board “reprioritize” its capital projects for the year, meaning several got pushed aside to build the four theaters. The commission also asked the board to fund some of the projects using its “own money,” rather than have the commission reallocate funds partway through the fiscal year. The school board subsequently saved millions of dollars by postponing several maintenance projects. 
“We were directed by the County Commission to use our fund balance for capital projects [in 2012-13], which reduced our ability to fund the upcoming budget,” Looney said. 
The superintendent forewarned that the commission’s directive could force the body to add to the 2013-14 budget at the end of the fiscal year. 
“If we do this, don’t be surprised if we have to come back and ask for more money to fund the budget,” Looney said at a county commission meeting last fall.
On Saturday, the board voted not to hold a second budget work session as previously proposed. The school board will vote on the 2013-14 budgets during the regular school board meeting on Monday, March 18 at 6:30 p.m., also in the auditorium of the Administrative Complex. 
Growing Pains
As the district’s budget grows, so does student enrollment. Looney reported this week that growth for the 2013-14 school year is projected to be 2.73 percent or an increase of about 900 students by the first month of enrollment. The current student population is approximately 32,000. Several schools in the district are currently over capacity, which could require installation of portable facilities on school grounds or lead to open enrollment this fall. 
Safety First
The district may soon create full-time position for a safety coordinator to keep students safe district-wide. The board approved filling the position at a cost of about $50,000. The coordinator would supervise safety plans for all schools in the district. The decision follows a visit last month by Michael Dorn, nationally recognized safety expert who serves as executive director of Safe Havens International. Dorn spent a week reviewing campuses and safety procedures. Looney said that the Dorn’s evaluation in mid-March. Safe Havens will also make safety and security recommendations for the Franklin Special School District. 

Posted on: 3/4/2013


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