After originally asking for new funds to cover a proposed $2.1 million 2015-16 budget for Loudon County Board of Education that would essentially require nearly a 20-cent property tax increase, Director of Schools Jason Vance will come before the full Loudon County Commission during the board’s Monday workshop to request 4-6 property tax pennies to assist in offsetting costs for the coming fiscal year.
School board members granted Vance’s request during a BOE workshop Thursday night.
“I think that the (county) commissioners need to understand every part of the fiscal responsibilities of every department that they oversee, and of course, they oversee all the departments, and I feel like that they need to know exactly what is occurring financially in each of those,” BOE Chairman Ric Best said. “That’s why we want to present just this one opportunity to the full commission.”
Vance made a pitch for additional funds for the school board during a Loudon County Budget Committee meeting last month, which was attended by members of the BOE.
“We originally what we were asking for is probably closer to 18 cents, so we’re down to a third or a fourth of what we think we need,” Gary Ubben, board member, said. “I think there’s mixed feelings on the commission regarding it. The commission is split. It’s only the Budget Committee that’s looked at it so far, but historically, it’s unlikely that the commission will override the Budget Committee’s recommendations.”
Vance said the Budget Committee has agreed to let the school board utilize the full $2.1 million budget increase, but only if funds are taken out of the fund balance. The budget panel has not recommend any additional property tax allocations for the BOE in the new fiscal year.
“I mean I know the commission did not fully endorse — when I say the commission I mean the Budget Committee — did not fully endorse the increase that we asked for, for the $2.1 million,” Vance said. “Some people felt that that was a halting request or maybe a little high. I believe the board was very much appropriate in sending it down.”
Moving forward with a $2.1 million budget increase would allow for a 4 percent raise for teachers or a new compressed salary schedule to offer better compensation for teachers, a 2 percent step increase, funds for additional expenditures regarding operational costs and four science, technology, engineering and mathematics instructors.
School board members said they are hesitant to take out any more money out of fund balance than what they already have for fear of depleting the account.
Vance said moving forward with a $1.6 million budget would slash the 4 percent raise down to 2 percent, which would save $500,000, and take the four STEM positions off the table to free up $200,000.
“Loudon County Schools has fallen further behind on salaries compared to the districts in East Tennessee, and as a result it’s made it more and more difficult for us to hire quality teachers, particularly at the middle school and high school level in areas like science and mathematics, and until we get that salary schedule fixed, we’re going to continue to have that problem,” Ubben said.
The county will provide about $238,000 in growth money for the coming fiscal year.
Vance said $1.662 million will need to be taken out of fund balance if an additional appropriation of pennies is not made, in part due to an estimated rise of $30,000 in liability insurance and $451,000 to cover the school district’s Internet and phone service.
One penny in property tax revenue represents about $164,000. With Lenoir City Schools receiving a portion of the funds, Loudon County Schools would receive about $106,600 per penny.
The school board will hold a workshop at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the County Office building to discuss any developments at the County Commission workshop. Board members will then hold the regularly scheduled meeting at 7 p.m. at the Loudon County Courthouse Annex.
“I’ll be curious to see how that’s received,” Vance said of the request for 4-6 pennies. “We’re certainly (going to) carry that request down as I’ve been told and see what we can do. Now, I’ve got to believe (there’s) happy medium somewhere down along the way.”