County gets update on SROs, construction

Jeremy Styron-News-Herald

As part of the ongoing discussion about increased funding for school resource officers in the city of Loudon, Director of Schools Jason Vance explained why the Board of Education made an offer of $33,000 in compensation for the two officers Monday during a Loudon County Board of Commission workshop.

The school system previously made some tough decisions in order to make budget, Vance said, compared with other department's cost-saving measures.

"We have been accused on the school board of having a large budget," Vance said. "I've had people say that you've got more money than you need. We've had to actually cut people; we've had to fire people this year in order to make our budget, and that's not fun.

"When I looked around to other departments, I don't see other departments firing people in order to make their budgets," he said. "So what I want to say is we're tight. It's challenging for us to make our budget. We don't just have extra money laying around."

Loudon previously requested an additional $30,000 apiece for two officers that serve in Fort Loudoun Middle, Loudon High and Loudon Elementary schools. The board of education offered a reimbursement of about $33,000 each in increments over three years.

Vance said that for the BOE to provide the additional $30,000 requested from Loudon, the commission would either have to give the school system more money outright or approve taking the money from the BOE's fund balance.

Commission member Brian Jenkins asked Assistant Chief Deputy Jimmy Davis about the possibility of the county funding two officers for the schools.

Davis said that would cost $37,000 each not counting benefits.

Vance then asked how the city and county would collaborate if there were no officers in the schools and an emergency came up.

"If the city were to have a problem, for example, if we had a problem at Loudon High School, some tragedy, would the city be able to supersede the county?" Vance asked. "How does that work?"
Davis said that city and sheriff's office personnel typically work together on crowd control and maintaining safety.

"If there's an issue, we're going to handle it one way or the other," Davis said.

Commission member Steve Harrelson questioned why additional SRO funding was now on the table after the budget process was over.

"I just wished this issue had come up three or four months ago when we were all working on our budgets instead of waiting until everyone passes their budgets, then want to start getting more money," Harrelson said.

Vance said he presented what he felt was a fiscally responsible plan that gradually increased SRO compensation.

"We felt that it was appropriate in light of cutting positions," Vance said. "Now, I've had people say, 'It's just $30,000.' Well, that's two teacher assistant jobs."

Vance also updated commissioners on the $43 million school construction project. He said he expected the cafeteria at Philadelphia Elementary School to be completed this fall and Fort Loudoun Middle construction to be completed by August 2013. The new Greenback school was expected to be finished by January 2014.

Earlier in the day during a capital projects committee meeting, Vance reported that because of some unsuitable dirt and rock problems at the Fort Loudoun Middle School site, the project could run over budget by about $350,000, money which could be offset from contingency funds from the other two projects.

"I think there's potential that we can complete our program and run close to zero (overage), but then again, that eats up all your contingency funds," Vance said.

He tried to dispel a rumor that the Fort Loudoun project was running $1.2 million over budget.

"We're going to try everything in the world we can to use our contingency money and to use just good judgment," Vance said.

Vance also said during the committee meeting that the BOE previously moved to turn a portion of the old Greenback school over to the county, while keeping the adjacent gymnasium. The school board plans to renovate the roof and the gym would be used as a football locker room and for other purposes.

"We have established, apparently by Tennessee Code Annotated, that the Loudon County Board of Education owns that property, not Loudon County Commission," committee member Harold Duff said. "That being the case, why are we talking about turning it over to the county?"

"The board of education can declare it's surplus and all surplus property goes back to the county," committee member Leo Bradshaw said.

Duff then suggested that the county possibly tear down the building by a cost-effective means.

"Did the school board discuss anything about taking in big graders and dump trucks and scooping it up and hauling it off somewhere and putting it in the dump?" Duff asked.

Bradshaw said demolishing the building would be an expensive undertaking. "It's a little bit more complicated than that, Mr. Duff, because as far as that school, there's quite a bit of asbestos in that school," he said.

Committee member Brian Jenkins said renovating the building also was not tenable.

"Most people wouldn't want it because of the cost to do something with it," Bradshaw said