Friday, February 01, 2002

Board OKs draft of budget without contingency fund




By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        COVINGTON — The Covington Independent School Board passed a first draft of its $38 million budget for the 2002-03 school year Thursday, but Superintendent Jack Moreland is certain that state education officials will reject it within two weeks.

        The reason: A 2 percent contingency fund — which in Covington's case totals about $950,000 — is missing from the document, despite a state law requiring one.

        “This is the Moreland protest,” Mr. Moreland said. “Trust me. We will have a contingency fund when the time comes.”

        That time is expected to be April, when the General Assembly adjourns and state funding amounts are better defined.

        Mr. Moreland said the money would come from two main sources: savings from 20-25 teachers who Mr. Moreland expects will retire or resign and early-retirement plans for an estimated three administrators.

        Principals in each school are required by the district to submit lists of staff members who won't return this fall.

        State law requires school boards to pass a draft budget by Jan. 31 each year, but Covington board member Col Owens was at least a little uncertain about passing the budget without the contingency fund.

        “I don't think we can legally do it,” said Mr. Owens, who still joined the 5-0 vote.

        Mr. Owens pointed out there is already a $2.1 million budget shortfall for the 2002-03 school year. It includes an estimated increased expense of nearly $1.1 million — the amount of Gov. Paul Patton's proposed 2.7 percent increase in teacher salaries plus normal district raises for certified and noncertified employees — plus a loss of just more than $1 million in state funding.

        In addition, Mr. Moreland said the district is being asked to pick up the health-insurance costs of 99 employees funded by federal programs, which he said would cost around $310,000.

        School officials have said the quality of instruction will not be affected, and Mr. Moreland has told department heads to come up with plans to trim expenses.

        But one employee, school-bus driver Sheila Adams, was worried Thursday about the possibility of losing some 18 school-bus monitors, who help control problems with unruly students so drivers can watch the road.

        Ms. Adams accused principals of not supporting the drivers when it came to kicking misbehaving students off the buses, and she said a budget proposal to eliminate the monitors would create worse problems, such as injuries among fighting students and bus crashes.

        “Lawsuits could result,” Ms. Adams said.

        The board approved, 4-1, a proposal to have a public meeting at Holmes High School this month to explain the fundamentals of school finance.

        Board member Glenda Huff voted against holding the meeting because she said it could degenerate into shouting matches that achieve nothing.

       



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