7 Hours Later

Wednesday's Loudon County Commission's seven hour marathon workshop produced a lot of good discussion about the proposed budget. Being a workshop no votes could be taken but all the commissioners had opportunities to ask questions and give opinions on the proposed budget.

Probably the biggest decision facing the commission will be to accept the school board's request for more than a million dollars in new operating costs or to use those funds for the building program. Both can not happen without a large property tax increase which no commissioners are advocating.

Other issues on the table include, raises for all county and school board employees, possible reductions of a few employees and your taxes. The official vote is set for October 12th.

Loudon County Commission debates how best to use school funds

By Hugh Willett knoxnews.com
LOUDON - The Loudon County Commission's decision on providing the school department with an additional $793,000 dollars for the 2009-10 budget could come down to deciding on the best way to educate children.

The commission, meeting for a long-delayed budget workshop Wednesday, debated whether raises for teachers or new school buildings would provide the best return in educating the county's children.

Commissioner and budget committee member Don Miller said that the additional money requested by the schools for a 2 percent raise for teachers and new textbooks could reduce the money available for the building program by as much as $10 million.

Operating expenses for the schools have increased 8.6 percent per year over the last five years, Miller said. Other county departments have complied with requests to cut back and some have even decreased spending, he said.

Bob Franke, commissioner from Greenback - one of the communities slated for a new school under a proposed building program - said that he hoped the new buildings would decrease operating costs.

Three professional educators on the commission made their case for funding the raises and new textbooks.

"Programs and people are what make the biggest impact," said Commissioner Nancy Marcus, a former teacher and school administrator who holds a doctorate in education.

Commissioner Harold Duff, a former principal, acknowledged that the school buildings had reached a crisis state, but insisted that the teachers were the key component in the educational equation.

Commissioner David Meers, a principal in the Loudon school system, said he supported the raises for teachers as well as the money for textbooks. "We must provide the tools for our teachers," he said.

Meers noted that a decrease in the number of approved textbook suppliers over the past few years had resulted in cost increases.

Proponents of the building plan were just as adamant that the program needed to go forward.

"We're not saying buildings are more important than people," said Commissioner Austin Shaver. "We're saying that the two go hand in hand."

Shaver presented a plan that would fund a building program of up to $37 million through a 30-year bond that could be accomplished without a tax increase. To do so, however, would require the county pay down current debts using money from the county general fund, he said.

Franke said he understood the importance of keeping good teachers. He said that he hoped new facilities might even help attract good teachers.

Schools Director Wayne Honeycutt sat in front of the commission answering budget questions from both sides. Honeycutt said that Loudon teachers' pay ranks 15th out of 18 surrounding counties. The school department has reduced spending compared to the previous year's budget, he said.

"We're proud of the support that the commission gives education but we need to do better," he said. "We certainly do need a building program."

Tight budgets make for tough questions in Loudon County

Wednesday afternoon, Loudon County commissioners debated how to spend what money they have on their school system.

Their central question: What's more important, the present, or the future, of Loudon County schools?

The proposed $38 million school budget is in deficit by about $790,000.

County commissioners face the task of balancing it. That is, if they decide to.

The reason they wouldn't is reflected in the mirrors above a sink at Fort Loudoun Middle School

Their reflection reveals flat screen computers on the other side of the room.

That's because the current math lab is actually the former girl's locker room.

"We are overcrowded. We have classes in locker rooms. I share an office with my assistant principal. Several of us have to share classrooms," said Fort Loudoun Middle School Principal Tiffany Ratledge.

Educators argue the effects of such overcrowding go far beyond the aesthetics of taking class next to toilet stalls.

"If you've got kids in what used to be restrooms or locker rooms, and you're trying to instruct them, that's not going to work too well," said Loudon County Director of Schools Wayne Honeycutt.

"When you're overcrowded and your students are on top of each other, it makes learning very difficult," Ratledge said.

A few miles from the locker room math lab, county commissioners did a little math of their own.

The numbers to either fix up the school along with others, including Greenback Middle School, or simply keep the schools running, just don't add up.

"These two questions have to be considered together," said Loudon County Commissioner Austin Shaver.

The two questions are whether to put money aside for a $47 million school building program or spend almost $800,000 to simply operate the school system for the next year.

Simply buying new science textbooks for the schools, which need to be updated this year, is set to cost over $400,000.

"The school's operating increase, if it's accepted in full, will all but put an end to the school building programs," Shaver said.

Others opposed to dishing out the money for the operating costs say the money could be used to secure necessary loans for the building programs.

"If we approve this $790,000, it's $10 million less that we'll have for the school building program," said Commissioner Don Miller.

However, those focused on this year say, new buildings or not, no students can learn without the programs and the people who teach them.

"We need to take care of the schools, the children, the programs, and the teachers first," Commissioner Nancy Marcus said.

Mr. Honeycutt says if they don't get the $790,000, programs, and potentially jobs, face cuts.

Loudon County commissioners will vote on the school budget at their meeting October 12th.

Loudon schools seek nearly $800K in extra funding
The Loudon County School System is asking the county commission for more than three quarters of a million dollars for additional operating expenses this school year. But some commissioners are balking at the figure.

LOUDON, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Meeting Wednesday afternoon in a work session, the Loudon County School System is asking the Loudon County Commission for more than three quarters of a million dollars for additional operating expenses this school year.

But some commissioners are balking at the figure.

The county has been working toward getting some new schools to replace aging schools like Greenback.

Some say they can't do operational expenses and pay for new schools.

But the schools superintendent says it's the students who will suffer.

"Who is going to hurt? Kids. The kids are always the ones that hurt," says Loudon County Director of Schools Wayne Honeycutt.

Honeycutt says it's always the children that hurt when the system doesn't get the money they need to operate.

They're asking the county commission for more than 750-thousand dollars additional this year in a tough economy.

Some commissioners are grinding their teeth.

"There's been increases every year for the school system and I think it's time we're all going to have to bite the bullet," says Loudon County Commissioner Wayne Gardin.

The schools are also seeking funding for a new school in Greenback, a new middle school, and renovations to other schools.

"We've neglected that over the last twenty years and now it's hit us all at one time." says Gardin.

Some feel if the commission gives the additional money for operating expenses there won't be anything left for paying back bonds for new schools.

"The more you take away the more you jeopardize the capital program," says Gardin.

The Director of Schools says they hoped they wouldn't have to come ask for the extra money.

"We were asking for some growth money from the property tax which would have balanced our budget. The budget committee did not necessarily want to do that," says Honeycutt.

But some commissioners are fighting the extra funding hoping the replacement of antiquated schools will solve some of the problems.

"I think the quicker we get some new facilities built the better off we'll be cost wise on operating expenses," says Loudon County Commissioner Bob Franke.

But the figure of three quarters of a million appears to cost the county commission even more.

Commissioner Franke says a portion of the money is also required to go to Lenoir City which would bring the price tag actually to one point one million.

No word on when the commission will vote on the measure.