Superintendents: Budget is fair

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 10, 2016

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Local superintendents are pleased with the $6.3 billion education budget passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday and the bill that gives educators a pay raise.

The budget, which begins Oct. 1, increases the budget 4.8 percent or $290 million over the current year.

Pay raises include a 4 percent increase for employees who earn less than $75,000 and a 2 percent increase for those earning more than $75,000.

Additionally, employees at community colleges and technical schools will get a 4 percent raise.

Andalusia City Schools Superintendent Ted Watson called the budget a breath of fresh air.

“We aren’t looking at major cuts or having to delve out money to bail out other folks,” he said. “It’s a fair budget, I feel like.”

Watson said he’s excited for teachers that they will get a raise, and that they will actually see an increase in their pay checks for the first time since 2007-2008.

“The only raises teachers have had is in 2013 and it was 2 percent, but it was in essence erased when PEEHIP was increased by 2.5 percent,” he said.

Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart agreed.

“I am thankful that our teachers and support staff could see a raise next year,” he said. “It is long overdue. I believe our legislature is wise to raise teacher and support salaries more than those on the administrative end. Our teachers have been the ones most impacted by changes in standards and accountability. My only reservation is that it is important that PEEHIP not increase rates on our staff. The raise is crucial, but can be undermined quickly by an offset in increased insurance premiums.”

Covington County Schools Superintendent Shannon Driver said he was glad to see that the legislature was able to get education employees a much-needed raise.

“I’m glad to see it,” he said. “Our employees went a long time without a significant raise and their insurance and retirement contributions has gone up.”

Smithart said he believes it’s a very good budget as well.

“Our legislators have focused on providing more resources to the classrooms and that is where it is needed,” he said. “I am especially encouraged by the change in divisors at the secondary level.”

The budget allows for hiring of 475 additional teachers in grades 7-12.

“Hopefully by providing for more teachers in middle and high schools, we can offer more electives to our students,” Smithart said.

Driver said he estimates the system as a whole could get one to two more units.

“We really need more divisors and I’m happy to see that,” he said. “I haven’t done the exact calculations yet, but I would say a conservative estimate is one to two units.”

Watson said it appears that the rolling reserves are working at least for now.

“It’s been a few years since we have had to deal with proration,” he said.

The budget also increases funding for textbooks, technology, transportation, supplies and more.

“The last couple of years we have seen some increase in library funds,” Watson said. “That’s a big improvement over years past. We had some students who came through the elementary school and didn’t see any new books bought in the library.”

Watson said he hopes they can also expand technology since they were able to update the system’s infrastructure to be able to accommodate a program such as a 1 to 1 technology initiative, where students have access to tablets or laptops.

Another $14 million was added to fund the First Class Pre-K program, which brings the total to $62.5 million for that.

There are classrooms at Andalusia, Opp, Red Level, Pleasant Home and Straughn.

Driver said they aren’t sure how that will affect things, but that administrators were in the process of deciding about applying for additional grant funds for classrooms.

The budget now goes to the Senate for approval.