(Photo by Jon Anderson)
Hoover school budget hearing 9-10-15
Hoover school board members and administrators join members of the public in listening to Hoover City Schools Chief Financial Officer Cathy Antee present details about the school system's proposed 2016 budget at the Farr Administration Building in Hoover, Ala., on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015.
The city of Hoover is at a critical point where residents must decide what they want in their school system and whether they are willing to pay for it, Superintendent Kathy Murphy said tonight.
Murphy’s comment came at the first of two public hearings on the school system’s $168 million budget for 2016, which is expected to include a $10.4 million deficit.
The superintendent, who has been leading the Hoover school district for just 3 ½ months, said the system cannot continue on the same financial path it has been following in recent years. Budget deficits continue to add up year after year, draining the school system’s overall fund balance.
“At what point do you bottom out on that?” Murphy said. ”How many more years can we take that kind of a hit?”
Murphy said the school system clearly is going to have to look at finding staffing levels that are sustainable. Right now, the Hoover district pays all of the salaries and benefits for 622 of its 1,824 employees. That’s 34 percent, and it costs $35.9 million, she said.
She wonders if the system can really afford to keep doing that, she said.
The 2016 budget includes money for 60 new employees, even though enrollment is down by about 60 students this year to about 13,840. Thirty-two of those new employees are support personnel, and many of them are custodians, Chief Financial Officer Cathy Antee said.
The Hoover school board in July 2013 decided to hire an outside company to provide custodial services at seven elementary schools. But other school employees complained about poor service, so school officials recently decided to bring the custodians back in house.
Another 23 new positions are for teachers, including numerous foreign language teachers, Antee said.
Murphy said she was not yet employed with Hoover schools in April when staffing levels for the current school year were set, but those employees are already in place and operating for this school year now This coming spring, there will be some tough conversations about staffing, she said.
“We don’t want to lose anybody critical to the teaching and learning process that basically has kept Hoover the excellent school system it is,” Murphy said. “But at the end of the day, we may not be able to do the things we’ve always done.”
Murphy and Antee outlined several other areas school officials plan to examine for potential cost-cutting. Those include overtime, travel, cell phones and technology.
Murphy said that doesn’t mean she plans to do away with all travel, cell phones and technology tools, but there likely are ways to tweak policies and practices and save money.
That said, school officials must join with the public and other public officials to examine potential additional sources of revenue, Murphy said. She’s not ready to storm city hall to ask for another penny to be added to the city sales tax, but that might be an option to consider, she said.
She wants to hear from community members what they want, she said. Parents and community members have to decide whether some of the amenities that Hoover schools offer – such as smaller class sizes, foreign language offerings, field trips and technology tools -- are really essential parts of the education system they want to provide, Murphy said.
“Some of the things that make Hoover Hoover are going to cost more money,” she said. Everybody wants the best education, “but at the end of the day, that has to be affordable. We’ve got to be able to pay our bills.”
School board member Earl Cooper said school officials need ideas for revenue generation, and all community stakeholders need to be involved. “Everybody together under this umbrella is going to have to determine what they want and how good they want it,” he said.
Former Hoover Councilman Jody Patterson was at tonight’s school budget hearing and told the board that when he hears the words “revenue generation,” his chest starts to hurt.
“I hear increased property taxes. I hear increased sales taxes,” Patterson said. “I think it scares a lot of older people in Hoover. We don’t want any more taxes.”
When he was a student at Berry High School in the 1970s, the overall sales tax in Hoover was 5 percent, he said. Today, it’s 9 percent in the part of Hoover that is in Jefferson County and 8 percent in the part of Hoover in Shelby County.
When he was at Berry, it had six grades and about 400 students in each class, he said. There were only two principals at the school, he said. That compares with eight administrators budgeted for the 2,900 students at Hoover High this year. Maybe that’s a place for cuts, Patterson said.
Cooper said if Patterson thinks the assistant principals at Hoover High have nothing to do, maybe he should spend a day with them to see what all they have to do.
Dan Fulton, a resident of Hoover’s Bluff Park community who has long pushed for a 1-cent sales tax increase to benefit Hoover schools, said such an increase would generate $20 million a year for the school system and enable it to build a third high school and provide pre-kindergarten classes at all of Hoover’s elementary schools.
Fulton said the best tax is no tax, but “I think it would be a super investment.”
If Hoover wants an A+ school system, the residents have to finance it, he said.
The 2016 school system budget being proposed by Murphy includes revenues of $157 million and additional fund sources of about $663,000, but expenses are expected to be $168 million, leaving a $10.4 million deficit.
The $157 million in projected revenues is down from $170 million in 2008 and doesn’t show any signs of getting back to that level, Antee said. This year’s budget represents a 2 percent drop in local revenues, 1.7 percent drop in federal revenues and 1 percent drop in state revenues.
Revenue received per student has fallen from $13,715 per student in 2008 to an expected $11,288 in 2016, Antee said. The amount coming from the state’s foundation program has dropped from $4,488 per student in 2008 to an expected $4,237 in 2016.
The expected expenditures of $168 million for fiscal 2016 are up $1.3 million (or less than 1 percent) from the 2015 budget.
Seventy-four percent of those expenditures are for salaries and benefits, Antee said.
Transportation operations are expected to cost the Hoover school system $6.7 million in 2016, but the state provides only $4.9 million, leaving Hoover to cover a $1.8 million shortfall, Antee said.
Hoover school officials expect to begin fiscal 2016 with $83.3 million in the system’s fund balance, but the expected $10.4 million revenue deficit is predicted to lower that balance to $72.9 million by Sept. 30 of 2016. That would be enough to cover five months’ worth of expenses.
A second budget hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in the Hoover High School theater at 1000 Buccaneer Drive. The school board’s regular September meeting will follow about 10 minutes after Monday’s budget hearing ends. The school board typically votes on the budget during that meeting.