County mulls school budget
Jeremy Styron
Although officials were scheduled to meet with the Loudon County Board of Education to hear an adjusted request for property tax revenue to assist in offsetting expenses in the district, Loudon County Commission called an audible Monday night, instead discussing the BOE budget and the overall county funding plan without the presence of Director of Schools Jason Vance.

County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw said he spoke with Vance before the commission meeting, and officials decided the county’s next workshop, which is set for this coming Monday, will be a more appropriate time to hear the school district’s request.

During Monday’s meeting, the Loudon County Budget Committee, after six weeks of preparation, presented the proposed funding plan for fiscal year 2015-16, which includes a BOE budget of $37.7 million.
“That will actually probably work out better than what we had initially planned,” Vance said during a follow up interview about his rescheduled presentation to commission.
“As long as we get an opportunity to present, that’s all that matters to me,” he said.
Loudon County BOE originally proposed a funding plan that was about $2.1 million over budget, which Vance previously said will require a property tax increase of about 20 cents.
Vance said he plans to propose an adjusted property tax allocation increase of about 6 cents for the school system at the workshop. “We’re recognizing that they’ve cut several other departments, so we’re not asking for as much as we originally proposed,” he said.
The $2.1 million plan included a 4 percent raise for teachers or the implementation of a compressed salary schedule, additional operational costs of the school district and funding for four science, technology, engineering and mathematics instructors. A proposed reduced budget of $1.6 million includes a 2 percent raise for teachers and no additional STEM instructors.
As part of its recommendation to the full commission, Loudon County Budget Committee approved funding the BOE at its current property tax allocation, with the understanding that the BOE will receive about $238,000 in growth money through an increase to the value of a property tax penny, from about $160,000 to $164,478, and more than $400,000 in funds from the state.
“Even though the Budget Committee is not recommending an increase in revenue — as they (the BOE) did request — the Budget Committee did recommend the expense budget that the board presented,” Tracy Blair, Loudon County finance director, said during the meeting Monday. “... The Budget Committee said you have the same amount of property tax dollars, but in your expense budget if that’s what you need to spend, that’s fine.”
Differing fund balances
During the last few weeks, school board and county officials have presented different figures on the BOE’s current and projected fund balance.
Blair said the BOE’s fund balance will be about $5.5 million by the end of June 30 if the school district spends “every dime” it has been allocated, and according to budget projections, the balance will be at more than $3.5 million at the end of the new fiscal year if all revenues are tapped and all expenses are used.
Commissioner Van Shaver, who sits on the Budget Committee, said the state requires the BOE keep its fund balance at a minimum 3 percent of the total county budget, which is about $1.8 million.
“They can’t even get that low if they were trying,” Shaver said. “If they gave out all the money with raises, they still can’t get there.”
Why not just cut?
Commissioner Henry Cullen, who is also part of the budget panel, said the BOE could have taken measures to trim parts of its budget.
“In the real world, they could run that school system with what they have and the increase they got just by going line by line and cleaning up some of their problems, which they haven’t done, and they wouldn’t have to touch their fund balance,” Cullen said.
Commissioner Harold Duff said he wanted a better understanding and wanted to hear more details both on the school board’s budget and the overall county funding plan. Although the Budget Committee accepted the BOE’s total funding plan, the panel left a line-by-line vetting of the funding plan to the school board’s budget committee.
“I would like to know what it is that the people are asking for; I mean why ignore it?” Duff said. “I just want it explained to me what you did, and you told me you ignored it.”
“Just the school — not the whole thing — just the school budget,” Shaver said.
“Well, the school’s $37 million; it’s more than half the budget,” Duff said. “Why ignore it?”
Commissioner Chairman Steve Harrelson, who also sits on the Budget Committee, said the BOE has its own budget panel to examine specific parts of the school budget.
“The way it’s set up too though, the school board is their own little authority, and they have their own budget committee,” Harrelson said. “You should go through their budget to explain anything. I can’t explain their budget. There’s some things they come with a total number to us from their budget committee, and that’s what we dealt with was the total number, and we approved what they sent us.”
Need more information
Duff said he wanted to have a “working” understanding of the BOE’s budget before voting on it.
“That’s what we thought was happening,” Duff said. “That’s what I thought as I understood tonight’s meeting was partly about, having them come to explain it to us, rather than getting into this forest that we’re in right now.”
Commissioner Bill Satterfield said he understood Duff’s point. “I would think if we’ve got a department that’s spending over half the revenue in the county, it’d be nice, I would like to hear from them just for the fact that so that I can answer constituents as far as money, what they’re spending it on.”
After more discussion about the BOE budget, county officials went through parts of the overall county funding plan that have already been recommended for approval by the Budget Committee.
A final vote on the budget is expected to take place at 6 p.m. June 29 at Loudon County Courthouse Annex.
During the followup interview, Vance said he plans to speak with commission during the workshop at 6 p.m. Monday at the county office building on the adjusted school budget request.
“I think it will be interesting to see how they will respond to that, and ultimately, we’re looking for some compromise and assistance along the way,” Vance said. “I am hopeful that they’ll have an open mind, and I’ll leave it at that.”