ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Carter County Board of Education has approved a $45 million budget for the upcoming year that includes funding for teacher raises and the expansion of Hunter Elementary School.

In the budget that board members approved Tuesday night: a 3% raise for teachers and a 4% raise for paraprofessionals.

Now, the budget proposal will go to the county commission, which may look to tighten the budget. That could mean consolidating schools. A decreasing student population could mean the district receives less money from the commission than in years past.

“Hopefully, they’ll approve it and we’ll be able to implement what we set out to do,” Board Chair Tony Garland said.

The raises in the school budget will cost the district $1.1 million, just under half a million from state education funding, the rest from the district’s fund balance.

Next year, the district is expecting to receive $3.4 million more in funding under the state’s new school funding model, which could mean more raises to keep Carter County Schools competitive with neighboring districts.

“Other districts may be benefitting from that as well, so you’ve still got the competition there,” Garland said. So, we’ve got to find a way to overcome more than just that.”

However, the district expects to receive between $260,000 and $270,000 less from the county due to a drop in student population.

“The county is still funding the schools as if they had over, had around 6,000 students, and population of the school system’s dropped to 4,400,” said Carter County Commissioner and Budget Committee Chair Aaron Frazier.

Frazier said it was 2006 when the district had 6,000 students.

With fewer students spread out among 15 schools, Frazier said the district needs to work on lowering its operating costs. He said that could mean consolidating schools.

“Close things down and save money that way, as well as centralizing more kids,” Frazier said. “You start to spend your money more wisely in the dollars that you’re putting forward to the kids.”

Frazier said the maintenance of aging buildings will cost the county more money over time.

Garland said the district could use the Hunter Elementary School expansion to consolidate schools. The planned expansion would make the school just outside Elizabethton a K-8 school.

Garland said Hunter would be able to accommodate the student population of two additional schools.

Board member Chris Hitchew said he sees consolidation on the horizon.

“I think, if I understood, the county commission budget committee is going to force our hand on closing schools,” Hitchew said.

The district’s budget included that the county fund $9.5 million of the Hunter Elementary expansion.