Staff photo by Tim Barber Walker County School Board members exit the meeting room for an executive session in April 2017. The board is still waiting to receive a detailed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
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Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines has defended the school board's public commenting policy, which requires prospective speakers to meet with him prior to a board meeting. Justices in the U.S. District Court and the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals have ruled this policy to be unconstitutional.

CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. — Walker County Schools administrators delayed the release of a detailed budget because they couldn't get the computer software to work.

The Board of Education was supposed to vote on the tentative budget next Monday. But during a planning session Tuesday evening, Superintendent Damon Raines asked the board to push the release of a budget back a week. He explained that figures did not add up when staff punched them into SmartFusion, the software that the school system uses to build the budget.

In particular, the system did not properly calculate total expenses when the staff entered in salaries and benefits. Fringe benefits, for example, appeared to cost twice as much as they are supposed to.

Raines has released a two-page budget that shows the general outline of how the system hopes to spend money this year. Overall, driven by more state funding, the school system expects to take in an extra $4.6 million this year, a 5.6 percent bump. At the same time, the system expects to spend an extra $4.2 million, a 4.5 percent increase.

"We feel really good about where we're ending up," Raines told the board. "We're just not clear on the largest percentage of the budget, which is salaries and benefits."

Director of Financial Services Bridgette Watts said the makers of SmartFusion changed their software this year, embedding some information she could not remove. She did not explain the details, but she said the change caused problems when she entered salaries and benefits into the system.

The team at SmartFusion has helped them work through the issues.

"We just now have gotten most of the bugs identified and worked out," she said. "I need time to validate. I hate to give numbers that I cannot validate."

The board then hosted an executive session closed to the public to discuss employee decisions. Raines did not return a call or text message with follow-up questions about the quirk in the system.

During the meeting, he told board members he hoped to give them a more detailed budget by Monday so they can begin reviewing it. He asked them to then hold a special called meeting to vote on the tentative budget June 25. It's not clear what time that meeting would be. The board will then hold public hearings on the budget on July 10 at 5 p.m. at the Advancing Education Center, located at 925 Osburn Road in Chickamauga.

The board will hold a second public meeting on July 16 at 201 S. Duke St. in LaFayette. An hour later, the board will vote on the final budget.

The slimmed-down budget presented to the Times Free Press last week shows a $3 million boost for instruction, a $719,000 boost for maintenance and operations and a $400,000 increase for school administration.

The board will vote on a spending resolution Monday, allowing the school system to keep using funds as it waits for the board to approve the new budget. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Walker County Schools includes 10 elementary schools, four middle schools and two high schools. As of March 1, according to the Georgia Department of Education, 8,666 students attended Walker County schools.

Chickamauga City Schools Budget

Chickamauga City Schools Superintendent Melody Day presented a tentative budget during the Board of Education's meeting Monday night. Compared to what the system has spent this current fiscal year, the proposed budget calls for a $315,000 boost in spending, highlighted by $100,000 more for school administration and $50,000 more for pupil services. The budget also calls for $260,000 less for instruction and $90,000 less for media services.

Overall, spending is set to outpace revenue by about $73,000.

The school system spent about $276,000 more than originally expected, according to financial documents. This included $590,000 more than expected for instruction. At the same time, the system received $500,000 more than it originally expected, highlighted by $290,000 more for state grants.

The city school system's fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30. Day said the board has not set hearings for the budget yet, but she hopes it can vote and pass the final budget by August.

The board also approved a spending resolution Monday, allowing the school system to spend up to one-twelfth of the current total budget each month for July and August — as the board works through the new budget.

The school system consists of an elementary school, a middle school and a high school. As of March 1, it had 1,312 students.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or