Mixed-bag for citizens’ budget discussions

JONESBORO — About a dozen residents and district employees turnout for the second of four public hearings on the Clayton County Board of Education’s upcoming budget.

Most of the employees — primarily bus drivers in the transportation department — backed Superintendent Luvenia Jackson’s recommendation to grant employees a one-time, 1-percent bonus next year.

Earlier this month, the board was presented with three options to consider in preparing its $352 million budget. The first option is to continue operations without pay raises, furloughs or layoffs. The second is to give a one-time, 1-percent bonus to all employees. And the third is to give 1-percent recurring pay raises.

Business services director Lonita Collier said the options exist because the district will have $11.37 million more in revenues than initially anticipated for fiscal year 2014, after a $1 million adjustment to the state’s quality basic education formula and an $8.8 million increase in equalization grant funding. She said there would be deficit spending despite the surplus.

Residents and employees spoke out about the ideas Thursday.

Likita Largent is a school bus driver. She favors employee bonuses or pay raises.

“We do need help, we do need a raise,” said Largent. “The cost of living is going up and our pay is going down.”

Largent said she and her co-workers have seen no pay increases over the years but have been asked to do more in their jobs to help curtail costs for the district.

Fellow bus driver Susette Chambers agreed.

“Everything has gone up,” said Chambers. “We’re expected to do more work with less pay.”

Resident Mary Dewberry suggested the board consider giving pay raises only to hourly workers, who typically get less pay than salaried employees.

Resident Tracy Larson said she preferred to keep the status quo. She repeated concerns about the board’s future finances.

“Of the three budgets to consider, the best one to consider is Option 1 with no pay raises,” she said.

Larson said the penny-on-the-dollar individuals would receive throughout the year is not much, about $40 per month for an employee making $50,000 a year. However, the district would be spending roughly $2.5 million doling out the one-time bonuses.

She argued the collective sacrifice would have a more positive impact on the district than the individual benefits.

Bus driver Deborah Lazarus said she stands to receive less than most district employees in bonuses but is in favor of the bonus.

“Is it an extreme amount? No. But my insurance went up $36 a month,” said Lazarus. “I do understand that you have 400 employees that I can speak to that are barely making it.”

The board plans to host its next public hearings June 3 at 11 a.m. and at 5:30 p.m. Participants are asked to sign up before the hearings. A sign-up sheet will be available 30 minutes prior at 1058 Fifth Ave. in Jonesboro.