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Grayson school employees get bonus, $500 'stipend'

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Grayson schools ended the year with a surplus.

By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Employees of the Grayson County Public School System will get their first raise in more than three years, although it is a one-time cost of living bonus that won't carry over to the next school year.

They also will receive a $500 “insurance stipend” after the county finished the year with a surplus of money due to what administrators called “extremely efficient budget management.”
School system Finance Director Julie Bear brought the news to the school board during its regular monthly meeting last week.
Bear said that careful spending and an increase in the school system’s Average Daily Membership — a number that determines how much state and local funding the school system will receive — resulted in a surplus of money.
Last year, the school system saw significant mid-year cuts in the budget, and thus this past year administrators “pinched pennies” in case additional cuts were made.
Without any cuts, the school system was left with some money that it is not able to carry over to next year. So, it chose to put that money towards employees.
Bear explained that a one-time cost of living increase of 2 percent and a $500 “insurance stipend” will be provided to all school system employees.
Additionally, the school system will purchase one school bus and buy new textbooks.
Division Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Thomas added that a large reason why the ADM increased was “because of county-wide attendance committees.”
Attendance has improved greatly in the county. “That’s what we believe the greater increase is,” she told the board.
When asked to explain where additional funds came from, Bear said about $69,000 was added because of the increase in ADM, while another $60,000 was saved in planned retirements that did not occur this year.
The county must budget each year for all retire eligible individuals to be paid all their sick and personal leave. With only two employees opting to retire this year, the county saved significantly.
Additionally, the county must budget for teachers to use all of their sick and personal days during the year and plan for substitutes to cover those days.
Bear said that not all teachers used their available days, and the county saved another $66,000.
Throughout the year, the school system lost 18 personnel, and in most cases hired a replacement at a lower salary, saving the county additional money.
After hearing the proposals for what to do with the money, Vice Chairman Shannon Holdaway motioned to approve the amended budget. The motion was seconded by Board Member Wynn Combs and taken to the floor for discussion.
Holdaway questioned some of the amounts for the different spending options.
Bear said the school bus would cost just under $76,000, and the 2 percent salary increase will cost the county around $225,000.
Holdaway then asked if the county had offered an early retirement program this year, as it has done the past two years.
When he was told no, he asked why.
Thomas said that many of those eligible to participate have already done so and that the administration “didn’t see an opportunity for a lot of savings,” this year.
Asked about the $500 “insurance stipend,” Thomas said that was to help cover the increasing costs of insurance that employees have had to pay for.
Not only has the county seen a large increase in rates, but Thomas also explained that the school system was supposed to cover 90 percent of the rates, but that only averaged out to about 72 percent through the school year because the money wasn’t budgeted for such an increase.
“Employees had to pick up that percentage,” she continued. “Even the $500 stipend is not going to cover increased insurance costs that our employees have, but it will help.”
Holdaway questioned how the county would handle employees who did not have insurance with the school system.
Bear said that every employee — regardless of whether they had the county benefits or not — would receive the $500 stipend.
Thomas added that some of the staff may have taken the insurance if the school system had been able to cover the full 90 percent. She felt it was only fair to give the $500 to all employees across the board for “whatever insurance they have.”
Holdaway disagreed with administrators calling it an “insurance stipend” and instead noted that “it’s a $500 bonus for those that aren’t taking our insurance and a $500 stipend for those that are.”
Thomas said again that it was for whatever insurance the employee had and that it would not cover the increases the employees have been forced to pay.
With no further discussion, the board voted 4-1 to approve the changes, with the dissenting vote coming from Holdaway.