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Dougherty School Board OKs FY 2014 budget

From left, Dougherty County School Board Chair Carol Tharin, Vice Chair James Bush and interim Superintendent Butch Mosely huddle to discuss financial matters on Wednesday shortly before the board unanimously approved a $206 million budget for the upcoming 2013-14 school year.

From left, Dougherty County School Board Chair Carol Tharin, Vice Chair James Bush and interim Superintendent Butch Mosely huddle to discuss financial matters on Wednesday shortly before the board unanimously approved a $206 million budget for the upcoming 2013-14 school year.

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Dougherty County School Board on Wednesday unanimously approved a $206 million Fiscal year 2014 budget that includes cutting one planned staff furlough day and a $750 monthly stipend raise for School Board members.

The discussion about the stipend raise was contentious with the board voting 4-3 to ask School Board Attorney Tommy Coleman to draft a resolution to the district's state lawmakers asking for state Legislature approval to raise the monthly stipend from $250 to $1,000 per month for members, $1,100 for the vice chairman and $1,200 for the chairman.

Vice Chairman James Bush and members Milton "June Bug" Griffin, Darrel Ealum and Velvet Riggins voted for the raise; Chairwoman Carol Tharin and members Lane Price and Robert Youngblood voted against.

"I think a raise in the board stipend is long overdue. It's really just a matter of fairness," Ealum, who has not accepted a stipend check during his nearly three years on the board, said. "We are working for pennies an hour. When you look at what the city and county commissions are paid, are we really that far down the totem pole?

The raise, which must be ultimately approved by Gov. Nathan Deal, would bring the School Board's monthly stipend in line with the city and county commissions' monthly pay of $1,250 and $800, respectively.

"I respectfully disagree with Mr. Ealum," Tharin said before the vote. "Right now our financial situation is dire and we are trying to balance our budget. I don't think we are paid enough, but I have a problem with the timing of this."

Price agreed.

"Right now, we are in a financial mess and we are working our way out of it," she said. "This is a service we are performing. We are up here for one reason and it's not money."

"I'll not accept one dime of this money," Ealum countered. "I just feel that the School Board's work is just as important as the city and county commissions and we should be compensated accordingly."

That got a rise from Youngblood, who quipped, "well, maybe we should ask the city and county to lower their stipends."

Ealum later challenged the three members who voted against the raise to follow his lead and return their stipends to the district.

The new budget includes $600,000 from the general fund, which will be used to reduce the number of adjusted staff workdays (or furloughs) from six days to five days.

The budget also includes an additional $1,054,251 for Albany Early College (AEC). The system was forced to draw that money from its $9 million-plus reserve fund after learning earlier this year that Federal Title I funds cannot be used to pay for the program.

The reserve fund balance for the system that is anticipated for the June 30 end of the current FY 2013 is $9.98 million. System officials expect to use $2.6 million from reserve funds in FY '14, which is expected to reduce the fund balance to just over $8 million.

Nervous about the district's dwindling reserve fund, The board is paying close attention to the situation with the Early College and will consider options on how to lower the cost of the school -- including possibly moving it to Albany High School.