Board votes 2-1 for minimum salaries

WINNSBORO – It’s rare when a major school budget measure passes by a 2-1 vote, but that’s exactly what happened at a recent board meeting.

On June 5, the Fairfield County Board of Trustees voted 2-1 on a motion directing Superintendent Dr. J.R. Green to develop options in which no district employee makes less than $20,000 per year.

Trustees Annie McDaniel and Paula Hartman voted for the motion that McDaniel introduced. Board Chairman William Frick voted against, and the remaining trustees abstained.

Trustee Carl Jackson said the vote happened so quickly, he didn’t realized what had happened until it was too late.

Jackson said he wasn’t opposed to McDaniel’s motion, but also expressed concern about micromanaging the superintendent.

“I’m a little disillusioned here. We as a board can say to the superintendent what we want him to do with that salary range,” Jackson said. “I don’t have a problem with that. Let him bring what he’s going to bring and we’ll deal with it. Let the superintendent do his job.”

Following the vote and further discussion, the board also adopted third and final reading of the 2018-2019 budget by a 6-1 vote, with Hartman opposing.

Included in the $41.27 million budget are step increases and a 2 percent, across the board salary bump for all employees.

At second reading, board members also voted to increase the annual band supplement by $10,000, as well as $1,500 increases for the boys’ and girls’ basketball coaches. Those supplements remained in the final version.

The band stipend will be disbursed among all individuals who work in the band program, Green said.

There is no tax increase in the budget, with millage remaining constant at 203.1 mills.

Green, though, hinted that a millage increase might be required if the board enacted a measure to increase every employees’ salaries to at least $20,000.

“I will bring back what you want me to bring back, even if it means a millage increase,” he said.

The salary debate was a continuation of a heated discussion that first arose during the May board meeting.

McDaniel, who is running for the House District 41 seat, pressed fellow school board members for details concerning unclassified worker salaries.

Specifically, she wanted to know what an annual salary would be for various hourly employees, cafeteria workers in particular.

Green said it was too difficult to provide an exact number, saying it depends on how many hours worked. McDaniel kept pressing.

“I’m not understanding why it’s heartburn to have the conversation,” McDaniel said.

Kevin Robinson, the district’s finance director, said school cafeteria worker salaries and can’t be easily annualized because they work varying numbers of hours.

“Food service workers do not all work the same number of hours per day because it’s based on that school,” Robinson said. “All of the annual salaries are going to be different for the food service workers based on the fact they do work a different number of hours.”

Green added some cafeteria workers work during the summer while others don’t.

“There’s a variation there as well,” he said.

As was the case at second reading, frustration eventually entered into the budget discussions.

“You can’t pick one salary and say that’s not a fair salary,” Frick said. “That’s the issue I had last time. I’m seeing you trying to make a point.”

“We need to look at this and if this is what we want it to be,” McDaniel snapped back. “Come on, $13,000 to $14,000 a year? That is not a livable salary.”

Hartman, who supported McDaniel in voting against the budget at second reading, voiced some of the same concerns.

“The richer get richer and the poorer gets poorer,” she said.

$5.4 million deficit expected

In related budget matters, the board also approved a tax anticipation note (TAN) not to exceed $5.4 million.

A TAN is a short-term loan to help the district cover temporary budget shortfalls until sufficient tax revenues become available in January 2019.

According to board documents, a shortfall is expected to begin on or about Sept. 22 and continue through late January 2019. The total projected shortfall amount is $5,346,850.

The loan’s interest rate was not stated.

Board Chairman William Frick, a longtime critic of the board’s habit of issuing millions of dollars of TANS each year, voiced frustration over needing to vote for the note.

“Is there going to be a year where I’m not going to have to vote on one of these things?” Frick asked. “I understand the reasoning behind this, but I would like to see a day when I don’t have to vote on this.”

The board signed a $5 million TAN in 2017, district documents state.

Tax bills are due Jan. 15, 2019, which is when the district anticipates receiving the needed tax revenues sufficient to cover expenses.

Related: School budget talks heat up,

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