BOE Gives Away $16,000.00

Facing tough financial times and  with a multimillion dollar building program in the very near future, the Loudon County Board Of  Education voted to give away $16,000.00 to a local nonprofit organization. The Loudon County Education Foundation had requested the donation to help support their operations. The foundation purports to benefit both Lenoir City and Loudon County school systems with various assistance programs.

The most recent financial statement available for the foundation shows that nearly 64% of their $119,000 budget went to foundation salaries and operations. My self and board member Lisa Russell voted against the donation.

The annual $16,000.00 donation to the foundation had been cut this year when the board had worked to cut their budget to "bare bones" to meet the requests of county commission. Other items that had been cut from the budget were board pay and board travel all of which have now been restored.

County school board restores funding for Education Foundation

Author: Mary E. Hinds, News Herald

The Loudon County Board of Education voted to restore funding for the Loudon County Education Foundation (LCEF) at the Nov. 13 board meeting.

Betsy Morrow, executive director of LCEF, attended the meeting and was happy the funds were restored. “We’re pleased,” she said adding she felt the move was justified by the job her organization is doing in both the county and Lenoir City school systems. “It’s more of a partnership with the Loudon County Schools, the Lenoir City Schools and the Education Foundation. We offer programs that they can’t offer,” Morrow said after the meeting.

During the meeting, the school system’s Business Manager Bennie Sims addressed the board requesting budget amendments including restoring $16,000 to the budget to fund LCEF. The foundation’s budget was cut during the last budget crunch when it was lumped together in a line item entitled “other.” Several board members said at the Nov. 13 meeting they had no intention of cutting funds to LCEF and did not realize at the time that they were.

“Some of us didn’t realize we were cutting the Education Foundation,” said Board Chairman Leroy Tate adding, if they had realized it, “it wouldn’t have been cut.”  Board member Lisa Russell said she had visited the foundation prior to the meeting and that while she had the upmost respect for what the program was doing, she felt in light of other things cut from the budget she didn’t feel a “donation” to the foundation was appropriate. “I’m not comfortable making that call for taxpayers,” Russell said.

Board member Gary Ubben voiced whole-hearted support for the foundation. He said money given to LCEF was “seed money” and gave a good return on the investment. “The $16,000 is minimal compared to what we get back,” Ubben said.

Board member Larry Proaps agreed. “I know what Betsy does,” said Proaps referring to Morrow. He said funding the foundation was saving taxpayers money by using their funds to “pay for programs we need but can’t fund.”

Board member Van Shaver said the county school system was in no position to be adding things back to the budget. He said that while the LCEF was a worthy organization, “Loudon County is loaded with worthy organizations.” He also questioned if it was legal for the board to give money to non-profit organizations at all. “We have no statutory authority,” Shaver said.

Director Wayne Honeycutt spoke up saying he had contacted the school board’s attorney, Chuck Cagle, who said if the foundation is a 501-C3 organization, which it is, “the board can most definitely contribute” to it. Shaver said he learned as a county commission there were prohibitions on what the county commission could fund.

“You’re not on the county commission anymore,” Tate pointed out to Shaver adding that the mission of the school board was “just to help children.”  He again said the board had not intended to cut the LCEF’s funds. “It would be the kiss of death for this program,” Tate said.

Board member Bill Marcus pointed out the system has approximately $600,000 returned to fund balance at the end of the fiscal year and if the board had known that the cut would not have been made. Tate said the question was whether to “help kids or damage them” and added, “I have to look at myself in the mirror.”

The Loudon County Education Foundation supports both the Loudon County and Lenoir City school systems with programs designed to directly benefit each system’s students and teachers. According to the foundation, one of the most visible ways the foundation helps in the county school system is the “Great Idea!” classroom grants to teachers. Teachers apply for these grants for projects that would not have another source of funding.  The selection committee, which always includes the directors of both school systems, looks for projects that will benefit a large number of students and that can be implemented in more than one year.  These grants are awarded to projects that will help give Loudon County students the extras that school systems often can’t afford.  Classroom grants were first awarded in 1999 and since then the dollar amount of grants awarded to Loudon County Schools teachers totals $37,161. “We’ve funded a lot of projects,” Morrow said of the classroom grants.

Other programs the foundation heads in Loudon County include:

• The Young Achievers Program. To date 1,788 Loudon County students have been recognized as Young Achievers;

• The Outstanding Teacher Award which has seen a total of 33 Loudon County School System teachers benefit to the tune of $6,600;

• The Encouraging Excellence in Education Awards Celebration which recognizes Young Achievers and outstanding teachers with a reception and program, the foundation also gives scholarships to high school seniors.

• Scholarships. Since 1999, 29 $1,000 scholarships have been awarded to Greenback School or Loudon High School seniors.  In 2008, three Greenback students, three Loudon High School students and one 2007 Greenback graduate received scholarships.  The total awarded to date is $29,000.  LCEF handles the entire process from sending out applications to writing checks to colleges, universities or technical programs.  Both school system directors always serve on the selection committee. 

• Leadership conferences for middle and high school students.

“I completely understand the people who had concerns with it and I respect where they are coming from. They have had a stressful budget year and they have a lot of needs. But what we are trying hard to do is provide the programs that give our students a competitive edge. They are up against Oak Ridge, Maryville, Alcoa and the Knox County Schools and we want them to have something a little extra,” Morrow said.

Morrow added that it is hard to estimate just how many students and adults have been affected by the LCEF. “When I was looking at some of the numbers just with Young Achievers, Youth Leadership Conferences, scholarship winners and essay contest winners since 2001 we’ve served more than 2,800 of their students. I can’t get an accurate account for students who took part in volunteer fairs, students who received books from the Read to Lead Project and all of the Adult Leadership Loudon County projects that have benefitted education in some way,” she explained.

The board voted to restore the $16,000 to the LCEF. “If we can’t support our foundation we’re in a world of hurt,” Honeycutt concluded.