Drastic Loudon Co. school cuts proposed With $3.4 million shortfall, eliminating athletics, transportation considered

By HUGH G. WILLETT, knoxnews.com
May 25, 2007

LOUDON - Faced with a $3.4 million 2007-2008 budget shortfall, the Loudon County board of education proposed radical cuts Thursday night in school expenditures, including eliminating all school athletics and student bus transportation.

"We decided that faced with the issues at hand, we needed to start with zero," said Director of Schools Edward Headlee. "We started with what absolutely had to be included in the budget by law."

Headlee, who announced at the meeting that he would be retiring at the end of the next school year, said the budget committee had tried to eliminate everything that would not directly affect the classroom.

Still, Headlee said he feared the school system was jeopardizing both the children's education and the county's potential liability with respect to state and federal mandates, including the No Child Left Behind requirements.

After including only state and federally mandated services in the proposed budget, the board compiled a list of 29 possible cuts, ranging from $99,000 for coaching supplements and $20,000 for athletic travel to $300,000 for transportation. The cuts, which accounted for a little more than $2.1 million out of the $3.4 million shortfall, will be sent to the county commission for approval June 11. The commission had budgeted $34.2 million for schools.

"We need to raise taxes," said County Commissioner Wayne Gardin, who has opposed many of the proposed capital improvements in the school system's long-term plans. "This isn't about the buildings, it's about educating the students."

Also included in the cuts were school board retreats, six school resource officers, a traffic officer, three family liaison positions, three special education assistants, five reading intervention teachers, two school nurses, TCAP examinations for second-grade students, criminal justice classes, and secretarial positions at the central office.

"If we do everything on this list, we'll be going deep into the areas where it really hurts our students," said school board member Larry Proaps. "What bothers me is that even if we accept these cuts, we are still over $1 million short of where we need to be."

Among the other possible cuts is a plan to save $124,000 by changing the teacher base salary to $32,325, which would be in line with a state-mandated increase of 3.1 percent, instead of the proposed $32,500. Administrative salaries would also be held to a 3.1 percent raise.

Clearly the most controversial cuts were those to the school athletic budgets and bus transportation. School board members speculated about the potential traffic problems, attendance problems and possible liability of cutting school bus services throughout the county.

School board member Freddie Walker Jr. agreed that the school athletics programs and transportation cuts were the least likely to be accepted by the county commission because of the predictable negative response from parents and other residents.

"I think they'll give us those two things, but we're still a long way from getting this budget in line," Walker said.

Local activist Pat Hunter suggested that the county commission take a dose of its own medicine when reviewing the county budget. She said she is upset that in the latest budget proposal the county commission voted itself a 23 percent raise and approved other expenditures, including $9,000 for laptop computers for commission members.