The Loudon County
Commission continues to wrestle with the decision on whether to
finance an additional $793,000 for the county schools proposed
operating budget for 2009-2010 or to use that money to help
finance the system's proposed building program.
At a commission
workshop Sept. 16, Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp kicked off the
discussion by reminding commissioners they are "looking at the
bottom line, you can't line item the school budget."
The system's proposed budget is approximately $38 million and
the school board is considering how, when or if to begin Phase I
of the school building program. Estimates on the amount of money
needed to complete the first phase of the plan range from $30 to
Director of Loudon County Schools Wayne Honeycutt answered
questions about the school system's proposed budget and gave the
commissioners statistics on how Loudon County ranks compared to
other schools in teacher salaries, per pupil expenditures and
per capita income. According to his stats, of 17 area school
districts Loudon County ranks 15 on that list spending $7,341
per student - below the state average of $8,345. The county also
ranks below other local systems in teacher salaries. Honeycutt's
stats also show while Loudon County ranks eighth in the state in
per capita personal income at $32,715 the county ranks 82nd in
the 2007 tax rate. A county's ability to tax versus how much it
actually taxes effects the amount of Basic Education Program (BEP)
funds each county receives from the state for education.
Regardless of how the county schools rank against other systems,
most commissioners seemed to feel the county cannot afford to
increase the operating budget and put away funds for the
building program at the same time. "The board understands this
is a conservative county - no one likes to pay taxes but they
want the benefits," Honeycutt told the commissioners. "We'll
work with you," he added but said "we can't sacrifice the
operating budget to get a building program. We need them both."
County Commissioner Don Miller presented a handout outlining how
the county has increased property taxes by 40 cents over the
last four years. Out of the property tax, which 39 cents went to
the system's operating budget and 15 cents to the building
program. This comes to about an 8.6 percent per year increase in
the operating budget over the last five years compared to 2.6
percent increase in inflation and "very little student
Miller disagreed with putting an additional $793,000 in the
operating budget this year when that amount "would support an
additional loan of almost $10 million for the school building
program." He told the commission "now is not the time to put
more than $700,000 into the schools' operating budget." School
officials reminded Miller some operating funds are being eaten
up complying with unfunded state and federal mandates including
the No Child Left Behind program. Miller said he had previously
asked for a list of these mandates so he could better determine
how much they were costing.
Commissioner Austin Shaver agreed saying if the operating budget
gets the funds it will "all but end the building program."
Commissioner Nancy Marcus disagreed saying it is "programs and
people" that increase learning and test scores not buildings.
Commissioner Harold Duff agreed with Marcus saying neglecting
the building program in the system "for 25 years brought us to
this state" but "curriculum and employees are the most
important factor" and cutting the proposed operating budget "is
going to effect the kids."
Shaver said while he agrees people and programs are important it
is not a "the chicken or the egg" situation. He told the
commissioners it's not just about what goes on in the classroom
when a lot of county students are not in classrooms but in
"trailers and storage closets." Shaver also said having
textbooks and teachers is good but not if the schools are
falling down around the students' ears. He suggested the
solution is for the county to "give a little on both ends."
Judging by comments and questions from commissioners at the
meeting, the commission seems divided on whether or not to
increase the school system's budget for operating expenses. With
the budget already overdue, the commission will vote on the
entire county budget Oct. 12. Speaking after the meeting Miller
said since the commission can only give the school system a
bottom line amount but has no say in how those funds are
allocated, the budget can move forward and be sent to the state
If the school system's proposed budget is rejected by the
commission, the school board will have to go back to the drawing
board to find places to cut the projected $793,000 overrun to
fit the amount of funds the commission approves Oct. 12.