Budget Vote Monday

This coming Monday, June 7th, the Loudon County Commission will convene in regular session. The biggest issue on the agenda will be the adoption of the 2010-2011 county budget. By far the biggest budget item on the agenda to be voted on will be the Loudon County Board Of Education's 37 million dollar budget.

Commissioners have a number of options for the school budget. They could give the school the 1.25 million the board has asked for. In which case Phase One of the building program will be dead. They could give the schools some amount less than what they requested.  In which case Phase One of the building program will be dead. Or they could tell the schools they will get no new money this year.  In which case Phase One of the building program would still possible. The question is, do the schools need more money to operate? Let's see.

It's a known fact (state audits) that from, 03-04 to 08-09 the board's expenditures increased by nearly twelve million dollars. During this same five year period, the board added 165 new teachers and assistants. (108 teachers, 57 assistants). From 03-04 to present, the system has added only about 64 students to their enrollment. In fact our current enrollment, 4998, is now nearing 2004-2005 levels.

During the same five year period, commission has passed two different property tax increases adding a total of forty cents to the tax rate. Thirty-nine cents of the property tax increase has gone to the schools. The total property tax contribution to the schools has increased by nearly four million dollars since 03-04. Local government has continued to pump millions into the system yet the system continues to cry poverty and demand more and more money with no real accountability.

The state of Tennessee through the BEP, Basic Education Program, determines the level of state funding for our system based on our student population by grade level and other factors. Through various formulas, the state pays varying percentages of school employee pay from 50%-70%. This includes everything from the superintendent to the custodians. Any employees the system hires above the number allotted for by the BEP must be paid for with 100% local money. This is why our system is seemingly always in need of more money.

According to the 2010-2011 BEP funding report, our system will be compensated for 422 positions for the upcoming school year. The problem is the system has more than 600 positions. This does not include board members or daycare workers.

The most glaring discrepancies between the BEP funding of required positions and the actual positions on the board payroll are teachers and paraprofessionals (teacher assistants).   

The BEP funding based on student population by grade level and other factors allocates funding for 302 teachers. Our system has 375. BEP also provides funding for 48 paraprofessionals (teacher assistants). Our system has 137. There are other like issues but these are the biggest ones. As stated previously, every position above the BEP allotment is paid for 100% with local taxes. These two overages alone could cost 3 to 4 million dollars annually. In fairness, every system has some positions over the BEP but I have found none as far over as ours.

Now to dispel some common myths. Much has been said about low teacher pay in Loudon County. This is just incorrect. Of the 136 school systems across the state, average teacher pay, $42,925.00, in Loudon County comes in at number 50. If you make the same comparison with the ten systems of like enrollment, Loudon County is near the top.  

On percent of local funding verses state funding, Loudon County comes in at 30 out of the 136 systems with local funding providing 39.7% of all funding. Commission has fairly funded the Loudon County system. Unfortunately the system has squandered much of that funding.

Then there is the matter of state mandates or unfunded mandates and programs. The reality is that the system really has no unfunded mandates to speak of. Most all the current programs that require local money are voluntary, self imposed programs, many with questionable results. These programs cost the system hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

At the end of the 2010-2011 school year, the system is set to lose more than a million dollars in ARRA funds, Obama bucks, yet the system has yet to prepare for this. This year the system lost around seventy-five thousand dollars in BEP funding due to a decline in enrollment and if that trend continues we could lose more BEP funding putting even greater strains on local funding.

The harsh reality is, the Loudon County school system does not suffer from a lack of funding but from gross mismanagement and reckless spending of the precious funds it receives. For the commission to continue to provide additional funding to the school system is not unlike pouring gasoline on an out of control fire. The difference being, you can put out a fire but you can never reduce funding to a school system.   

Members of the county budget committee have already indicated that a hefty property tax is coming next year. This of course well after the August elections. Maybe this would be a good question to ask commissioner candidates before the August election. Do they plan to raise taxes?