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Hall superintendent: Benefit costs on ‘unsustainable path’

POSTED: May 16, 2017 5:50 p.m.

Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield

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The escalating costs of providing benefits to public school employees are “on an unsustainable path,” and without a solution, they will continue to make balancing local school budgets difficult, according to Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield.

Schofield said Hall County’s proposed 2018 fiscal year budget includes nearly $6.5 million in new costs for employee benefits to go along with more than $4 million for a 2.5 percent pay increase for all employees.

“That’s a one-year increase, and that’s just an awful lot of money,” he said. “That’s a mill and a half of local taxes. That’s $6 million that would have been going to something like reading teachers or additional software licenses or additional books for libraries.”

Schofield said more than $11 million of the $13 million in increased spending in the proposed 2018 fiscal year budget is related to salary and benefit increases for employees. The county budget plan includes both budget cuts and taking up to $6 million from the district’s fund balance to cover the increases. He added that the burden on local school districts is likely to continue to increase, potentially leading to more future cuts.

“Unless there’s a new stream of funding or we come up with some new models that cut costs, it certainly will require cuts in other places,” Schofield said. “Continuing to generate more revenue, certainly as a conservative, doesn’t seem to be the answer to me. I would think it’s going to have to be being more thoughtful on a national level about how we handle some of these issues.”

The proposed 2018 budget for Gainesville City Schools calls for more than $2.3 million to be taken from the district’s fund balance to cover the cost of new expenditures. Chris Griner, chief financial officer for the city schools, said all but $400,000 in additional budget needs for 2018 are related to employee salaries and benefits.

The Hall County and Gainesville school districts spend about 85 percent of their budgets on employee salary and benefits. In 2018, all school districts will be required to pay 16.81 percent of each teacher’s salary to the Teacher Retirement System (up 2.54 percent), 7.65 percent of salary for Social Security and $945 per month for the employer’s portion of health insurance premiums. Districts have been paying $945 a month for their portion of employee health benefits for teachers, but were paying less for classified employees, those who are not teachers. School districts will start paying that amount for non-teachers in January, which will be an increase of $98.80 per month for each employee, said Griner. He said classified employees make up about one-third of the school district’s 950 employees.

“It’s one of those things that we have no control over; we just have to implement it,” Griner said.

“It’s unfunded mandates that have to come out of local funds. We’re fortunate to have a decent fund balance.”

Gainesville Superintendent Wanda Creel said districts usually have about nine to 12 months of advance notice from the state of increases in the employer portion of benefits.

“We have seen for a number of years an increase in the health benefits as far as the costs to the districts,” Creel said. “We certainly want to provide benefits to our employees. It does add quite a bit of an expense to a district’s budget. Currently we only have the state health benefit process that is basically our tool for providing benefits.”

The 2018 city school budget that is currently being considered has a 2 percent pay increase for all employees and doesn’t cut programs, Creel said. She added she is concerned about the impact of state funding, which often funds local school districts in lower amounts than are stipulated in state formulas.

“This year we had an increase in state health benefits in health costs for classified staff and an increase in the Teacher Retirement System portion that the district has to pay for teacher retirement, so we saw two increases at one time,” Creel said. ’“If there continues to be not fully funding of state funding formulas or revenues in different areas become stagnant or reduced, we would have to look at whether it makes an impact on our employees or makes an impact on our students. We certainly want to always be able to provide the services for our students.”

Schofield said he believes the solution to health care benefits ultimately needs to be settled at the federal level.

“These are national issues, and we see it playing out every day with the health care debate,” Schofield said. “We’ve got an aging population, and, as the boomers get older, everybody is living longer, and health care costs are exploding. When I say unsustainable, I don’t mean just at that local level. At a national level, we have those same issues happening that are indeed unsustainable.”


myview: May 16, 2017 7:29 p.m.

"increase in the Teacher Retirement System " Same problem USPS is having. Those are problems with benefits that don't exist in the private sector. Why should teachers and postal workers have retirement benefits when hardly anyone else does?

School systems have a lot of unnecessary costs actually they are a waste of money. We need business and management people to get involved in our school budgets to cut the waste and rich benefit programs. Face facts!

NANA: May 17, 2017 1:39 a.m.

Teachers have taught school for years with salaries that are much less than many in the business sector. Their college degrees cost them the same as other college students. They are required to maintain their certification at their own expense. Teachers and other staff are also required to pay a portion of their salaries each month into TRS (Teacher Retirement System). They also have to pay for health insurance and other other insurance they acquire. IT IS NOT FREE.

My view: This is not a RICH BENEFIT PROGRAM! You need to speed a day with a teacher and see what their day is really like. They are also teaching the future of our country. Their salary is divided by 12 so they receive a salary in the summer so don't say they only work 10 months and get paid for 12. Many teachers spend their own money for school supplies for their students. Many teachers also work at night teaching classes to help support their families.

Most businesses pay for the supplies for their workers. They also offer insurance benefits for their employees and pay a fee for them. You are the one that needs to face facts! FYI: I am not a teacher or a retired one.

NANA: May 17, 2017 1:47 a.m.

MY VIEW: Most businesses offer some form of retirement. If not you can buy an IRA for retirement. This is not any different than what teachers or postal workers are doing. A portion of their salary goes toward their retirement. Most teachers also pay into social security. It depends on whether their system participates. I certainly don't know your occupation, but all of these are issues in the private sector just as they are in the school system.

B17: May 17, 2017 1:19 p.m.

A lot of our citizens are in fixed incomes. We want a lot of things but are unable to afford them. You need to address the County office personnel. Address the fact that the office is top heavy with assistants and consultants. Maybe the Times could publish a list of County Office Personnel and their salaries. Let's see how the citizens in Hall County feel your pain. LIVE WITHIN YOUR NEANS.

ws: May 17, 2017 1:36 p.m.

All Georgia public school district financial information is public and published at the GA Department of education website. Please review before suggesting inaccurate information. Our per pupil expenditures rank 32nd lowest in the state out of 200 districts. For General Administration costs per child, Hall County schools ranks 49th lowest out of 200 school districts in the state. A list of ALL employees and their salaries is also available at the Georgia Department of Audits website. We have significantly fewer central office employees than other districts our size, and we are fortunate to offer a varied menu of programs of choice for our families. Thank you, Will Schofield

myview: May 17, 2017 4:47 p.m.

The fact remains there are very few companies in the private sector that provide ANY retirement benefits anymore so why should school system employees receive retirement benefits? NANA, most private sector employees have to provide much more than what you say teachers provide. Teachers, and thank God for teachers, have a less demanding employment, more holidays, less work hours etc. That is why they are not paid more. WS, you know and I certainly know there are many work shops each year that are not worth a hill of beans and if teachers will be honest they certainly know it is true. There are unemployed teachers waiting for a teaching position so teaching must offer desirable income and benefits. I have a real appreciation for teachers but you have to face facts. Business management experts need to help school systems manage their budgets.

NANA: May 17, 2017 6:49 p.m.

MY VIEW: Again, I suggest you spend a day or two with an educator. I think you will retract your statement about their job being less demanding. They are the ones who have to deal with the upset child who arrives at school crying because of something that either upset them the night before or that morning before they arrived at school. Administrative personnel are REQUIRED to be present at all school events. Look at the number of activities that may be taking place at the same time. Teachers either stay late after school or take papers home to grade. They are also expected to attend school events. You can drive by most schools after hours and see the cars of teachers still parked in the parking lot.

Many parents like mine encouraged their daughters to get a degree in education so they would have the same hours at their children. I chose to not follow their advice. I personally could not handle the lack of discipline that is present in the schools today. Many good teachers are retiring earlier than they once did because of all the extra paperwork, required test they must give, and the lack of discipline in schools today. Yes, there are teachers looking for jobs, but many also teach only a couple of years and find another profession.

Today's educators have to love the teaching profession. MY VIEW: It is obvious that where you work doesn't participate in a retirement program. That was your choice when you accepted the job. Many private sectors do offer this benefit as an incentive to gain more desirable employees. How would you feel if you worked for a company for 25 years and then the company dropped their retirement program? This is basically what you are saying the school system should do. MY VIEW: I'm sorry that you don't work for a private sector business that provides a participating retirement program. However, that is your choice, and you should not begrudge educators because they do. You chose your own destiny and now you must live with it.

myview: May 17, 2017 8:10 p.m.

NANA Lived with educators and am probably as familiar with them and their responsibilities as anyone can possibly be. Been there, done that. You obviously are not familiar with todays business world. Most private companies have indeed dropped their retirement benefits as well as insurance in many instances.

Obviously, you are not familiar with what I am referring to in better management of school system budgets However, I am really pleased you have such respect for teachers and our school systems. I do too! It becomes emotional when we talk about school budgets and that is unfortunate because we need to face facts.

NANA: May 19, 2017 12:15 a.m.

MY VIEW: I am very familiar with today's business world. Please tell me one large company in Hall County that doesn't provide benefits for their employees.


MY VIEW: You are the one that is not familiar with today's business world. You are more than likely an independent contractor and are responsible for your insurance and also saving for your retirement. Since you "Lived" with an educator, that person probably provided benefit you no longer receive. Sounds like you are suffering from "sour grapes".

Northeast GA Health Services:

HALL COUNTY SCHOOL SECOND - 2nd largest employer

Fieldale Farms:,14_IL.15,17_IN1.htm


PILGRIMS PRIDE:,15_IL.16,18_IN1.htm


ZF / TRW:,6_IL.7,9_IN1.htm

All of the above have insurance and some type of retirement programs. I review the school system budget as well as Hall County's budget. I pay taxes too, and I want my money spent wisely. However, you have to provide good benefits to maintain good employees.

You mentioned UPS earlier in this blog. Here is a link to their benefit packages:

Another Link for a way for small businesses to provide benefits. If private companies weren't interested in offering benefits or as you say they are not offering them, this site would be null and void:

myview: May 19, 2017 5:16 p.m.

Facts have to be faced. Living in a small world hinders one from seeing the big picture.

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