The Monroe County Board of Education has some tough decisions to make.

In a special called budget workshop on Tuesday night, the School Board was presented with the difficult task of cutting $400,000 from the school system's upcoming 2019-20 fiscal year budget.

“They told me to have you cut at least $400,000,” said Monroe County Finance Director Libby Hicks. “That doesn't mean they will fund the other, though. They're telling everyone to cut from their budgets. But, I don't speak for the commission.”

Director of Schools Tim Blankenship said the County Commission told him several years ago not to ask for additional funding until the school system's budget went below 3 percent (in reserve funds).

“We're right at 3 percent,” he said. “We've maintained a 3-percent budget for the last four years.”

At the May 2 meeting of the Board of Education, the board voted unanimously to send Blankenship to the County Commission to ask for $1.4 million to fund the 2019-20 fiscal year budget, which currently includes a step raise and a 2-percent raise for employees, and no increase to the cost of insurance.

But when Blankenship spoke to the County Commission on May 6, the commission had no solutions.

“There comes a time when you really have to look at everything carefully,” noted Hicks. “They're looking at a massive undertaking.”

Among the options for cutting $400,000 from the budget—closing Coker Creek Elementary School.

“I'm not making a recommendation. That's a board decision. You see the numbers,” Blankenship said. “The County Commission had some questions about that.”

But he admitted that would not fix the problem.

“Even if you close Coker Creek, that's a Bandaid fix,” Blankenship told them. “A one-time savings.”

“It's going to get worse next year if revenue doesn't increase,” noted 2nd District's Jason Miller.

Blankenship said one option could be to cut new textbooks from the budget at a savings of $360,000, and to not hire a math coach as previously planned with the savings from eliminating the driver's education program, which would save around $100,000.

“When we cut driver's education, that was a savings on buying a car and two salaries,” he said. “The tenured teacher could be moved into a different position.”

As far as textbooks go, the state does not mandate that the school system change them when new standard years are issued.

“If we choose not to purchase textbooks that means no new textbooks for social studies until the next cycle, which is about six years, if we opt out,” said Blankenship.

“Is that wise?” questioned 2nd District's Marsha Standridge.

“Is there something available where we could download them to computers?” asked 3rd District's Jo Cagle, before noting that not all children have computers at home to access the content.

Second District's Janie Harrill made a motion to cut textbooks from the budget and the planned hiring of a math coach. But the motion was met with silence and died for a lack of a second motion.

The outgoing director of schools, who concludes his contract with the system on June 30, said he would like to keep the step raises, 2-percent raise and insurance the same.

“If you cut insurance, you'd be looking at a mass exodus that day,” he said. “I don't want to lose benefits for our teachers.”

“There are so many more options now for insurance than there used to be and they're all choosing the highest option,” said 1st District's Faye Green.

“It's really not sustainable (over time),” noted Blankenship.

Cagle wondered if it would be worth looking at eliminating step raises temporarily for new hires, but grandfathering current employees in.

“That'd probably keep us from hiring,” noted Harrill.

Blankenship told the board he had reached out to the regional consultant for advice, but it could take up to two business days for her to go over the school system's budget and make recommendations.

In a roll call vote, the board decided to wait until the consultant made recommendations before making any decisions.

Blankenship was set to meet with the County Commission on Monday, May 20, but the board asked him to cancel that meeting, in order to hear what the consultant had to say first.

“Our budget has to be set by June 30,” Hicks reminded the board. “It will be voted on the fourth Tuesday in June (June 25).”

Cagle suggested the School Board meet in a workshop with the County Commission after they receive the information from the consultant to try to find a solution, and the board agreed unanimously.

Chairwoman Sonya Lynn voiced frustration with the County Commission, however.

“The County Commission is our funding body. We educate children,” she said. “We also put roofs on three schools and we shouldn't have had to do that. That should have been them. But, that's besides the point.”

Also at the meeting:

The board voted to allow Maintenance Director Phillip Carroll to move forward on repairing Coker Creek Elementary School's roof.

Carroll said insurance sent a check for $17,699.45, and the job bid came in at $23,488.81, leaving $5,789.36 still needed to fund the project.

“I have it in my budget to carry through with it,” said Carroll.

The roof project will be a shingle roof with a 30-year warranty.

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