"So Commissioner Bob Franke got his new school and now he wants to take our building fund money away? That's just not right." Loudon County School Board Chairman Scott Newman.  

BOE Blasts Money Shift

Jeremy Styron-News Herald

The Loudon County Board of Education fired back Thursday in response to recent decision by the county budget committee to move 8 cents in property tax money from the county's rural education debt fund to the general fund. 

During its monthly workshop, the board gave Director of Schools Jason Vance the go-ahead to send a letter to the county commission to denounce the recent shift in tax dollars.

"We believe that by moving this money, the children of Loudon County will be negatively impacted, as there are further needs in regards to school facilities," the letter said.  "While we are excited about the approved building projects, our deficits are still great in terms of buildings and maintenance, which in my understanding was the intended purpose of this fund."

Board member Van Shaver said the tax increase by the county last year was not popular, but the money was designated for school projects.

"When the discussion was being made about what the 20-cent tax increase was needed for, while it was unpopular with everybody, that 20-cent tax increase was 100 percent committed to the building program," Shaver said.

Budget committee members Don Miller, Bob Franke and Mayor Estelle Herron previously voted in favor of moving the 8 cents to the general fund.  The budget panel is expected to present the fiscal plan to the full commission Wednesday, with a vote to take place June 25.

Board of Education member Gary Ubben said the budget committee voted to move the money to the general fund because of an excess in the education debt fund.

The money was set aside to be used to build new Greenback and Fort Loudoun Middle schools and to renovate the Philadelphia Elementary School cafeteria at a cost of more than $40 million.

Ubben outlined the case for moving the funds.  He said the 20-cent tax increase was more than was needed for the building projects.

"The other argument that they're using is that they gave us $43 million for building," Ubben said.  "They didn't necessarily give us 20 cents for buildings; they've given us the $43 million.  It just didn't take 20 cents to fund the 43 million."

"But we knew that when they passed 20 cents," Shaver said.  "We were told over and over and over that it wouldn't take the full 20 cents."

Vance said the school building project would eventually cost more than $43 million because part of the plans include joining Fort Loudoun Middle with the elementary school.

"I think this is a great opportunity for us to have a strategic plan and say this is what we do next and third and fourth and present to the commission and say that we've to 20 cents," Vance said.  "We know that 12 or 14 is going to be designated right now.  These other 6 or 8 pennies can go toward X and X projects."

Vance said the board needed to devise a five-year plan that would include a connector for the two schools and a central administrative office.

"We need to have a very specific plan about how to move forward," he said.

Board member Ric Best pointed to other issues that the school board needed to address such as over-crowding at Highland Park Elementary.  "Do we want to prioritize that over really pending issues on the north side?" Best said.

Vance said that Loudon High School presented the most pressing concern regarding overcrowding, while Shaver noted that the county was going to have to add a new wing to the school in the future.

Vance also addressed some discussions that have taken place about closing Steekee Elementary School and combining the student population with Loudon Elementary.

"You can do that, but in order to make that happen you would have to increase  both Loudon Elementary and Fort Loudoun Middle school's current building," Vance said.  "It will not house Steekee Elementary's kids with Loudon Elementary's kids.

"Both buildings have to increase," he added.  "Does that increase in cost offset the cost for closing Steekee?