Blount County Schools plans to invest in raises and the Eagleton College and Career Academy in next year’s budget.

The first draft of the 2021-22 budget, discussed during a school board work session Thursday April 1, includes $3.38 million for raises and nearly $6.17 million for additions to convert Eagleton Middle School into ECCA, serving grades 6-12.

A step increase and a 3.6% raise on the base for certified staff would cost nearly $2.4 million, including taxes and retirement benefits. That would raise the base pay for teachers with a bachelor’s degree and no experience to $40,011 and combined give teachers a raise of about 4.5% to 6.5%, depending on where they are on the salary schedule.

A step increase and 5% raise on the base for classified staff would bring the minimum for those employees to $10.71 an hour and cost $715,000.

A raise averaging 4% for administrators would cost $275,300.

“No one is left out,” Director Rob Britt told the Blount County Board of Education, noting board members had told him compensation should be the top priority this year.

BCS also is looking at raising the substitute pay rate by $5 a day, to $65-$75, at a cost of $110,000.

Coaching supplements for high school athletics at ECCA are estimated at $100,000, although there will be some savings because Eagleton students may play on other high school teams until they have enough to field their own.

A rise in health insurance premiums is estimated to cost $576,000.

Capital projects

Within the general operating budget, Fund 141, the district is looking at using nearly $7.27 million from its fund balance, previously undesignated funds, for capital projects.

That’s on top of $6.4 million under the Fund 177 capital projects budget and nearly $5.7 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds BCS hopes to use for capital projects next year.

“I think this represents a good use of fund balance,” Britt told the board. That money cannot be used for recurring expenses, such as salaries.

Most of the money from the fund balance would go to ECCA, under the first draft of the budget.

BCS also is looking at using a quarter of a million dollars from the fund balance for a comprehensive facilities assessment. “It will help us build a capital improvement plan over five, 10 years that will save this school system money in the long run,” Britt said.

The assessment would include software and training to update the needs going forward. “It’s not just a one report and it’s done,” he said.

Another $250,000 would be used to repair bleachers across the 21 schools, which have issues such as cracks and holes in plastic seating.

Middle and high school athletics and fine arts would get $200,000 under the plan to use the fund balance, with the same amount paying for miscellaneous projects across the district.

Those projects include adding an awning at Carpenters Middle School, renovating two portable buildings at Middlesettlements Elementary, repairing gymnasium windows at Porter Elementary and more than $50,000 for “Columbine locks,” which allow teachers to secure classroom doors from the insideduring an emergency, instead of stepping into the hallway.

“We could probably spend way, way more than that on doors districtwide,” said Troy Logan, BCS fiscal administrator. “This is just trying to get some monies to get started on doing some of that ... to try to replace the worst of the worst.”

Fund 177

Under Fund 177, BCS is proposing more than $3 million to renovate the career and technical education building at Heritage High School, including furniture and technology. That is an estimate, Logan said, and federal funding may cover some of the costs.

About $1 million would go to continue work on the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at HHS, as well as $108,750 to replace ceiling tiles in the school.

At William Blount High School replacing the upper gym bleachers is estimated at $187,718.

The first draft of the budget includes $250,000 each for HHS and WBHS to “spruce up” the commons areas, replacing the furniture, painting and changing the lighting, which Britt said would transform the lunch experience for students.

The director said when he reviewed the budget proposal with principals they were most excited about the commons furniture.

Board member Fred Goins said, “I can guarantee I sat in some of those chairs in the cafeteria at Heritage High School in 1977, when it opened.”

At ECCA $280,000 would be used to convert the middle school weight room into a new science lab, which Logan said would be “top notch” and comparable to the renovated labs at the other two high schools.

Another $86,250 would pay for bleachers at the school, which Logan said “desperately need to be replaced.”

Federal funds

BCS hopes to use federal coronavirus relieve funding under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to replace the roof on the WBHS Ninth Grade Academy over four years, starting with $850,000 in 2021-22.

The draft budget also proposes using more than $2.8 million in ESSER funds for HVAC work “to improve indoor air quality,” along with $948,000 for bipolar ionization clean air technology.

Also under ESSER the district hopes to fund $90,000 to renovate eight classrooms at EMS as it becomes ECCA.

BEP unknown

The school board plans to vote April 22 on its budget for next year, but the district will present an overview to the county Budget Committee on Friday, April 9.

BCS won’t know how much state funding to expect under the Basic Education Program funding formula until mid-April. One variable is whether the General Assembly passes legislation to protect school funding from enrollment declines during the pandemic this year. BCS is among 130 districts in the state to lose enrollment.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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