Either, Or

It became obvious early in last week's commission budget meeting that the biggest budget issue facing commissioners was the school board budget. One reason for this was because almost across the board, county government departments had, as asked by commission, held the line on their individual budgets. Nearly every department submitted a budget request that was the same or less than last years. There are a few issues in the county budget that will have to be ironed out but in total a tight budget.

Enter the Loudon County School Board. The BOE was also asked to at least try to bring in a no growth budget given the current state of the economy and the current plans to enter into a multimillion dollar building program. The board not only ignored the reasonable request but by a majority vote submitted a budget to commission that would add another $800,000.00 to a nearly $38,000,000.00 budget and would all but eliminate the much needed building program. The $800,000.00 would include money for new textbooks and raises for all school personal. No cuts were made in the budget.

Several months ago at the request of the school board, commissioners approved spending up to one million dollars for architectural plans for the building program adopted by the board back in January. That million dollars has now mostly been spent. With only a limited amount of money, the school board knew that an $800,000.00 increase in the operating budget would all but eliminate the building program even after spending nearly a million dollars.

So, it all comes down to this. Does the commission approve the school board's budget request and throw the building program out the window or do they send the budget back to the school board with the same funding as last year, preserve the building program and let the board learn to live within their means? It's a tough decision on commission's shoulders.

Simply focusing on this one budget doesn't really tell the story. A look back over the last five years gives a much clearer picture of the dilemma the school board has put it's self in. Over the last five years, 03-04 to 08-09 the board's expenditures have increased by nearly twelve million dollars. That's a 45% increase for a total budget of more than $38,000,000.00. During this same five year period, the board has added 158 new teachers and assistants. (104 teachers, 54 assistants). During the same five year period, the system has added only about 150 students to their enrollment. During the same five year period, commission has passed two different property taxes adding a total of forty cents to the tax rate. Thirty-nine cents of the property tax increase has gone to the schools.

State law gives budget authority exclusively to the commissioners. They have a legal if not a moral responsibility to evaluate in totality how every department of the county, including the schools, are managing the tax payer's money.

The current and past board of educations have shown clearly, an utter inability or willingness to control their spending which has now put them in the predicament their in. Except for the board's past reckless spending practices, there would be money for raises, buildings, text books etc. and the commission would not be in the unenviable position their in.