Schools budget

After the Dickson County School Board approved its annual budget in a special session on Monday afternoon, the district presented the financial plan to the county commission that same day.

The proposed $70 million budget includes expected revenue from the county’s first property tax increase in 12 years. While the plan doesn’t include any raises for teachers, it will fund the operating costs for the new Burns Middle School and the transition of Dickson Intermediate School to Sullivan Central Elementary School.

The property tax increase, which is projected to be about 14 cents, was agreed upon in December of 2017 when the county decided to build a new school. The district originally predicted the project would cause a 23-cent property tax increase but later found that to be an overestimation, County Mayor Bob Rial said.

“We under-promised and over-delivered on that,” Rial said.

The district’s “no frills” budget is similar to the previous year’s budget, except for natural increases in retirement costs, contract costs and normal salary step increases, Director of Schools Danny Weeks said.

The commission plans to vote on the county’s budget, including the one for schools, at its June 24 meeting.

In previous years, the school board and the county commission have gone back and forth multiple times throughout the summer, trying to find common ground on the district’s budget without raising property taxes. In recent years, county local option sales tax increases have funded schools, Rial said.

This year, the board of education decided to present an “extremely conservative” budget with the expectation of requesting amendments from the commission once revenue starts flowing into their accounts, Weeks said.

“It’s not an ideal budget but you know, it allows us to budget for the needs of our school system, to keep us moving forward,” Weeks said to the commissioners.

The board budgeted for the items most necessary and left out some items that would be used later in the year, such as new school buses, he said.

During the school board’s special session in the afternoon, Weeks referenced past years when the district’s revenues have exceeded their budgeted amount. Last year, the district was able to budget only for about 90 percent of its anticipated revenue, Weeks said.

Board member Patricia Hudson, a former teacher, said this is unsettling for her.

“Since our tax base has gone up … it bothers me that our commission, our funding body, continues to be ultra-conservative, which prevents the board from giving our teachers and our administrators a raise,” Hudson said. “And would allow us to be much more competitive.”

Weeks agreed with Hudson, but he said he doesn’t believe this is the right year to request additional funds from the commission.

“Maybe next year,” board member Phil Buckner said.

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