Budget Balk

For the first time in maybe forever, the county commission has said no to more spending by the Loudon County School Board. At Monday's commission meeting, commissioners were faced with a budget proposed by the school board that if adopted would have again swelled the board's budget with nearly $800,000.00 in new operating expenditures. Even worse it would have effectively killed the much needed and overdue building program.

A majority of commissioners finally said enough was enough. The commission, by a 6-4 margin, voted to send the school board's budget back to the board with the same level of funding as last year denying the board's requested $800,000.00. Most importantly, commissioners also voted to add an additional nine cents to the building fund which will allow the board to continue to move forward with the building plans. Voting not to give the additional $800,000.00 to the board were commissioners, Don Miller, Wayne Gardin, Roy Bledsoe, Bob Franke, Austin Shaver and Earlena Maples. Voting to give the money were commissioner's Chris Park, Harold Duff, David Meers and Nancy Marcus.

Commission also voted not to give the 2% pay raise to county employees that had been proposed by the budget committee. Most commissioners voting for no pay raises sited concerns about the current economic conditions and the hardships facing tax payers. There were a few other noteworthy issues decided at the meeting and I will bring you those issues in a day or two. 

The school board will now have to go back to the drawing board for a redo of their budget. One of the main issues facing the board will be the purchas of $430,000.00 worth of new text books school administrators have said must be bought. Board members will need to find $430,000.00 in cuts in the nearly thirty-eight million dollar budget to be able to buy the books.

The school board will be meeting this Thursday in regular session. I assume a special called budget meeting will be set at the Thursday meeting.

Loudon votes no to raises, textbooks

Commission declines board request for additional $793,000

Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
LOUDON - The Loudon County Commission voted Monday night to hold the line on the 2009-2010 school budget by declining a school board request for an additional $793,000 for books and teachers raises.

Commissioner Don Miller made the motion to provide only the minimum amount required for maintenance of effort - about $37 million - despite the commission's budget committee recommendation to fund the shortfall.

Commissioner Wayne Gardin seconded Miller's motion, pointing out that the school textbooks should have been purchased months ago rather than being a part of the budget shortfall.

The motion to amend the budget to the lower amount met immediate resistance from the commission's three members who are educators - Nancy Marcus, Harold Duff and David Meers. All three made the case for investing in teachers' salaries.

The commission also heard from Loudon High School Principal Cheri Parrish, who pointed out that Loudon County ranks third lowest of 15 surrounding counties in teacher pay. Low pay makes it harder to recruit good teachers, she said.

"We want the best of the best to choose from," she said.

Other commissioners said they felt it was more important to protect the school building program by reducing overall operating expenses.

"We are at a fork in the road in terms of the building program," said Commissioner Bob Franke.

Franke made the case that new schools would decrease operating expenses compared with the series of retroactive repairs currently under way in the school system.

Duff argued the issue of the building program should not be combined with the discussion of operating expenses. He said he supports the building program but believes providing the necessary operating expenses was even more important.

Miller argued that the two issues were directly related. "The more money we save on operating expenses, the more we can put aside for the building program," he said.

Following a 6-4 vote to amend the budget in which Duff, Marcus and Meers were joined by Commissioner Chris Park in voting no, the question of raises for other county employees emerged.

Gardin made the motion to amend the budget to eliminate a 2 percent raise for most other county employees. The motion passed 6-4 with Duff, Park, Meers and Marcus voting no.

A series of three motions by Miller to move money from property taxes into funds that could be used to help the building program also passed 6-4, with Duff, Park, Meers and Marcus again voting no.

Duff raised the issue of what could be done to fund the purchase of new textbooks.

County Mayor Doyle Arp said that the school board could make a request of the commission to pay for textbooks out of another fund. The money for books would not affect the building plan, he said.

Schools Director Wayne Honeycutt said the school board would take up the funding of the textbooks at its meeting Thursday.

School board member Craig Simon said it was clear from the votes that the commission supports the building program. "I'm just sorry it had to come at the expense of the teachers' raises," he said.