As the specter of proration looms during the state legislature’s special session, Baldwin County Public Schools enter the 2016 fiscal year with a new leader at the helm and a leaner budget. Eddie Tyler, who spent 25 years as an educator in Baldwin County before being tapped as superintendent of Eufaula City Schools in 2012, was approved by a 4-2 vote of the Baldwin County Board of Education last week, with one board member abstaining.
Tyler was one of three finalists including Dr. John Green and Dr. Kip Stevens, both educators in Georgia. Tyler received approval from board members David Cox, Tony Myrick, Cecil Christenberry and Norm Moore. Board President Shannon Cauley and member Angie Swiger supported Green, and David Tarwater abstained from voting because he did not believe any of the candidates, while qualified, were a good fit for the system.
Cauley’s support for Green was based on leadership skills and experience in a rapidly growing school system, and she said the county should look outside the system for new leadership.
“We had to make a decision tonight, and I’m glad we were able to do that for the system’s parents, students, and employees,” Cauley conceded.
“I just want to express that this board member will support Eddie Tyler,” Tarwater said. “I will be very proud to have him as our superintendent and I will do everything I can to make his term successful.”
The board advertised the superintendent’s salary as between $145,000 and $165,000. According to documents released by the state board of education this year, Tyler was paid $114,750 at Eufaula in 2015.
Compared to county school systems with more than 30,000 students, Baldwin’s pay range is the lowest. Jefferson County Superintendent Craig Pouncey oversees 36,000 students and is paid the state’s highest salary at $228,000. Mobile County Superintendent Martha Peek, whose system has 57,000 students, was paid $204,000 in 2015.
In Eufaula, Tyler established an early learning center for pre-K through first grade students and pushed for a “one-to-one” initiative to give iPads to every student in the system. Tyler has also pushed for a career academy and indoor sports complexes. Academically, Eufaula’s graduation rate improved dramatically, from 70 percent in 2011 to 86 percent in 2013.
The board also approved a $312 million budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 2. Chief Financial Officer John Wilson said the budget is $18.6 million less than the previous year’s June 15 amended budget. The state allows school systems to amend budgets twice, in January and June, to address needs arising during the year.
The system’s operations and management budget is $37 million, down by $3.1 million from the previous year. Wilson said this portion of the budget almost always has to be amended upward in January. There is also a $2.1 million reduction in the system’s $31 million auxiliary services budget, which Wilson said is due to a reduction in local funds being used for buses. He said the system will spend approximately $800,000 in local funds on buses this year.
Wilson said there was a $1.2 million reduction in general administration because a handful of positions were not replaced after resignations or retirements. The $8.9 million general administration figure could be amended in January based on how Tyler assembles his administrative staff.
Additionally, the system’s capital outlay budget for building projects is down $8 million to just $7.6 million in needed repairs. Wilson said there is an additional, unbudgeted $10 million available for capital projects. He said the system will put together a plan for how to use that $10 million and present it to the board before the first amendment cycle in January.
He said the $312 million budget could swing to approximately $325 million in the first amendment cycle, but any change would have to be approved by the board. The budget reflects a $5.4 million surplus.
“I do expect our expenditures to stay below the FY15 level, but once additional capital projects are budgeted and we address any additional needs assessed during the year, with the superintendent and the board’s approval, those expenditures will go up,” Wilson said.
Foley High School projects the highest total expenditures at $12.6 million, while Gulf Shores High School projects expenditures of just $6.3 million. Fairhope High School is the only other school with more than $10 million in projected expenditures. Spanish Fort Middle School — the largest middle school in the county — has expenditures of $5.4 million, while Gulf Shores Middle is the lowest with $2.9 million budgeted. The most expensive elementary schools are Foley Elementary at $9.4 million, Robertsdale Elementary at $7.9 million and Fairhope Elementary at $7.2 million.
The system also expects a combined $2.3 million in expenditures at the North Baldwin Center for Technology in Bay Minette and the South Baldwin Center for Technology in Robertsdale. An additional $52,000 is budgeted at the aviation academy at the Fairhope airport.
With a budget passed and a new superintendent, the system is also keeping an eye on the state legislature’s second special session, which began Tuesday. Wilson said if the governor’s proposal to take $225 million out of the Education Trust Fund to fill budget holes is passed, the system could see 3 percent to 5 percent proration, or an estimated $7 million reduction in state funding.
“The $5.4 million surplus we have gives us a cushion to address needs that may come up during the school year or, if we get into a statewide situation with proration, it won’t impact us as much because of that surplus,” Wilson said, noting that proration is still an undesirable outcome for the system.
The threat of additional losses in revenue associated with a failed countywide tax referendum in March still looms, with the system projecting a potential $36 million deficit by 2019 if ad valorem levels are not renewed in the March 2016 primary and taxes are allowed to expire.