I am a Loudon County resident who is extremely concerned about the apparent lack of priorities being given our school system at budget time.
Tennessee documents Loudon County Schools' demongraphics as consisting of roughly 46% economically disadvantaged students, 12.4% of students with disabilities and over 5% of its student population as being Hispanic and, therefore, requiring additional services. Over forty-three percent of students system-wide qualify for free & reduced lunches. Yet, its per-pupil expenditures are 9% below the state of Tennessee average and over 25% below the national average.
While we are blessed with excellent teachers and administrators, Loudon County is bleeding them to surrounding school systems because of non-competitive pay. According to the budget talks under way, it appears this problem may be compounded by failing to give these dedicated professionals even the most modest of salary increases next year.
We cannot look at education in a vacuum. Education is an integral part of a community’s life cycle. Without an adequate (at a minimum) or excellent (what our children deserve) school system, new economic development halts, current employers are unable to fill needed positions, new residential development and residential relocations slow, students who do manage to graduate migrate away from the community because there are no job opportunities to keep them here, graduation rates fall as support programs are de-funded, the burden on government entitlement programs increases, retail stores close, sales taxes decrease, infrastructure quality begins to decrease, etc…and so the cycle continues.
While there appears to be much finger-pointing between the school board and the county commission as to whose fault it is that we are in our current predicament, that is surely not the point. What IS the point is that serious problems have been recognized and now, there must be a solution.
Certainly, most people do not “want” a property tax increase; however, I would support such an increase if I could be assured that the increase would go entirely to fund our school system – not to be taken away down the road if state funding temporarily increases. As far as those people on fixed incomes are concerned, I understand their plight. Fortunately our county commission has the power to cap the property tax rates for such individuals, so an increase would not negatively impact them.
Loudon County has the 3rd lowest property tax rate in East Tennessee, and the 15th lowest out of 95 counties statewide. We simply MUST look at the big picture and adequately fund education – if not for the students, then for the future of our community as a whole. While it is admittedly naïve to expect politics to be left out of this critical decision, someone on the Loudon County Commission needs to stand up for what is right and needed, regardless of the political implications. There are much bigger implications than those of a political nature over which each of you needs to be concerned.