County seeks salary increase for teachers
Jeremy Nash
Loudon County Board of Education members approved a new $36.5 million school budget Thursday night that plans to include a 2 percent raise for school staff and add funds for utilities, maintenance, security equipment and special education.

The board voted 8-1 in favor of the new budget. Board member Jeremy Buckles opposed, preferring a $36.2 million proposal instead. William Jenkins was not in attendance.

“I think anything extra that we do would be best to look at revenues over the next few months and see how they’re doing and possibly adding expenditures in at that point that could add on to if the revenues looked good,” Buckles said during t

he meeting. “And, of course, the $36.2 million budget had raises and everything as well and I considered it a good budget for the school system, just that extra $300,000 on top of it makes me slightly uncomfortable.”

“We’ll see where it leads us,” Phil Moffett, board member, said. “I think it’s a good start. Of course, it’s got to go through county commission ... and we’ll see what they say about it. It’s just the first step in the start. It’s just a starting place.”

Moffett and board members Craig Simon, Leroy Tate and Jenkins are on the BOE budget committee.

“We have not had an increase in the last four years of new tax money, so it’s a pretty conservative budget in that sense,” Gary Ubben, board member, said. “Over the last four years we’ve cut about 40 positions, I believe, out of our budget in order to try to save money and now we’re to the point that we’re going to need some more help, really.”

Despite Gov. Bill Haslam delaying an across-the-board 2 percent pay increase for state employees and teachers, the BOE agreed to go forward with bumping teacher salaries. Director of Schools Jason Vance said he hopes salaries will closely mirror surrounding county school systems.

“We’ve got to continue to pay our teachers what they deserve, and I’m really proud of the school board for stepping up and being responsible for this move and showing teachers we believe in you. We appreciate you,” Vance said. “... The school board’s been committed to incrementally trying to catch teachers up over the past few years and they’ve done a good job. They did a good job last year and I think this is another step forward in that direction.”

Board members will also look to allocate $150,000 for security equipment, specifically additional security cameras and door buzzers for each school, Vance said. Philadelphia and Loudon elementary schools are the only district facilities using buzzers to let visitors inside. The money is expected to be taken out of the $413,247 in line item 231 for Other Equipment, with the rest designated for technology such as increasing school infrastructure to support wireless Internet, Vance said.

An additional $100,000 will be inserted into Operation of Plant to help pay utility costs. Electricity is adjusted from $830,000 to $900,000, natural gas increases from $116,821 to $120,000, and water and sewer jumps from $90,000 to $100,000.

“I think another thing we are considering adding a little bit of money for raising utility costs with our new schools coming on board,” Vance said. “We’ve got more square feet across the county school district than we’ve had in years past and so we’re adding money for things such as water, natural gas and electricity.”

Maintenance of Plant will be increased $50,000 to help maintain school buildings throughout the year. For 2013-2014, the BOE originally budgeted $200,000.

“You know, while I believe that our maintenance guys have been doing a great job taking care of our property, really, we have still got some needs that we need to be addressing to make sure that our property is maintained appropriately, and so we think that’s (an) appropriate direction to go,” Vance said.

Moffett said adding more funds for maintenance is “a start in the right direction.”

“I don’t think you could ever put enough money into the maintenance fund,” Moffett said. “You just can’t put enough money in there. You could (put) a million dollars in there and it wouldn’t be enough.”

The special education budget will also see a $25,000 increase for 2014-2015.

The BOE was asked to submit a proposed budget to the county by April 15. Vance said the board did not want to “rush it through,” instead putting an added focus on areas of need.

“Now with that being said, I really don’t think that we’re terribly behind in regards to providing this information to the county,” Vance said. “I’ve been in communication with (County Budget Director Tracy) Blair and trying to make sure that she understands where we’re at and ... I would be prepared to present this to the county commission anytime they were prepared to hold another meeting.”

Next year’s budget amounts to $36,510,911, which is $510,911 more than the BOE originally budgeted.

Ubben acknowledged the budget is a starting point for the BOE to adjust accordingly throughout 2014-2015.

“It’s my hope that the budget would be fairly solid for this year with the understanding that in future years we could look to explore what direction we need to go in regards to education of Loudon County and if we need to go in a different direction, we certainly need to evaluate that and consider what our options are, whether it be positively or negatively,” Vance said.