School Board adopts budget

Published: Friday, August 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 1, 2003 at 1:45 a.m.

In the face of questions about their commitment to paying teachers fairly, Alachua County School Board members adopted the district's tentative $271.7 million budget for the upcoming school year.

The district's proposed budget includes about $1.2 million set aside for a one-step salary increase for teachers, $625,000 for pay raises for nonteaching staff and $1.03 million in reserve.

During Thursday's public hearing, union leaders targeted their appeals to the three newest board members.

"(Raising) salaries for teachers and employees was a central theme in last year's School Board elections," said Gunnar Paulson, president of the Alachua County Education Association.

"It is imperative that our salary schedules be improved."

At stake, union leaders told board members, is the morale of the employees and teacher flight to surrounding school districts.

To comply with the first year of requirements of the class-size limitation law, the district intends to hire about 20 additional teachers at a budgeted cost of $840,000.

Because of that, Paulson suggested to board members that the rest of the funds the state allocated for class-size reduction - $4.85 million - should go toward boosting teacher salaries in excess of the $1.2 million set aside.

Paulson also suggested to board members several areas in the tentative budget that he said could be trimmed in order to find the money for more employee pay.

Contract negotiations between the School Board and the union began in June.

Board member Ginger Childs responded to the union concerns and other residents such as a Gainesville Police Capt. Tony Jones' request that the district restore funding for a school officer position.

Childs said she felt board members did a "yeoman's job" in examining the budget for excesses during discussions that began earlier this year.

"There's not enough money to fund everything everybody wants," she said.

The board remains committed to looking for any available money and investing in the employees, she said, adding that she felt her 33 years in the Alachua County school system as a teacher and administrator gave her an advantage in knowing where to look.

School Board-initiated cutbacks to district-level administrative positions this year accounted for a budgetary savings of nearly $1 million, district officials said.

Most of the budget, $178 million, pays for operational expenses of the district, such as salaries and benefits for about 4,000 employees.

About $7.5 million is allocated for student transportation and more than $10 million for food services.

About 20 percent of the budget, $54.9 million, has been dedicated to capital projects.

For taxpayers, the proposed millage rate is 9.84 mills, or $9.84 for every $1,000 of taxable property value, slightly less than last year.

The district was able to reduce the millage rate because of the increase in assessed property values and new construction occurring in the county.

The vote on the final budget will be held during a September board meeting.

Douane D. James can be reached at 374-5087 or jamesd@

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