Board to explain school budget. Meeting response to Loudon panel's finance seminars

By Hugh G. Willett,

The Loudon County school board will be presenting "Education 101" tonight to explain the school budget to citizens and, members hope, county commissioners.

The schools face a multimillion-dollar shortfall for 2008-09, and the board has been reluctant to send the unbalanced budget to the County Commission.

Tonight's workshop will attempt to explain such concepts as unfunded mandates, where state or federal governments require programs but don't fund them. They contribute to misunderstandings about what it takes to comply with state and federal laws, said Gil Luttrell, assistant director of schools.

"There are people in the county who think we're overstaffed," Luttrell said.

Education 101 is a response to commission's "Finance 101" seminars conducted by Commissioner Don Miller several weeks ago to explain how tax dollars are generated and then allocated to the schools and other county offices.

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but everyone is not entitled to his own set of facts," said Miller, quoting former Democratic U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York.

Miller said he plans to attend Education 101 and hopes all the other commissioners do as well.

Wendy Baustian, president of the Loudon Elementary School parent-teacher organization and a school board candidate, thought Finance 101 was educational.

"I believe that Education 101 will serve the same purpose," she said. "Trust is definitely an issue between the school board and the commission. Both sides present valid arguments why the other can't be trusted."

Although the focus of the seminar is education, some issues relative to county finance also will be discussed, Luttrell said.

The commission, for example, has been considering a property tax increase and a wheel tax to increase school funding. The wheel tax is likely to be on the August ballot.

Luttrell said he plans to provide information showing how low Loudon County property taxes are compared to other counties in the state. In February, Loudon County voters rejected an increase in sales tax that would have been used to fund school improvements.

"I think the true answer lies in re-allocating additional pennies away from the Loudon County general budget," Baustian said.

Former county commissioner and school board candidate Van Shaver is adamant about not increasing taxes, saying the schools get enough money but waste it.

The county is just as guilty of overspending, Shaver believes. He points out that commission recently provided $390,000 to build a road in Tennessee National, an upscale private development with a golf course designed by professional golfer Greg Norman, while the school board is considering cutting $380,000 earmarked for new textbooks.