Inquiring Minds

At Monday's commission meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter of request to the Loudon County School Board asking for historical data and information pertaining to the school system's massive increases in spending over the last few years while the enrollment has stayed relative the same.

Commissioner Don Miller has been leading the charge to try to find answers to the spending spree. The letter will also ask the school administrators to provide some projections for future growth.

Those of you who read my site know I have been standing on the table for years asking these same questions. So I'm extremely pleased that commission is now asking for answers. But here's the rub.

The school board can not spend one dime without commission's approval. All of the schools increased spending was approved by at least a majority of commissioners over the last five years. Those on commission have been enablers of the school board's spending. And now that the school budget has become so bloated with commission's approval, it will be hard for anybody cut the fat. Government never gives back.

School spending: Commissioners ask for justification of expenses

Greg Wilkerson News Herald

Loudon County commissioners approved sending a letter to Director of Schools Wayne Honeycutt Monday, asking for a detailed analysis of the cost increases in the Schools Board's operating budget for the past five to seven years.

Commissioner Don Miller said he drafted the letter after becoming concerned the continued increase in cost to run the school system would hurt the county's chances of funding phase one of the building program, and would create a need for a higher tax increase in the future.

"From 2003/04 to 2008/09 (the period for which audit is available), school operating expenses (Fund 141) have increased from $26 million to $37 million," the letter states. "This is an increase of $10.8 million or 40 percent. This works out to an average of over $2.2 million per year in each and every year, or an increase of 8.1 percent per year."

The letter goes on to say from 2003 to 2010 there was in increase in staff of 163 teachers and assistants but only a small increase in student population.

"I want an explanation at this point," Miller said. "If it's all justified, great."

The county commission funds the school board with a lump sum amount each year, but has no authority to line-item the board's budget. The school board members decide how to allocate the money provided.

In the recent budget, the county commission approved an additional about $1 million to the schools for operating expenses. Miller was among the minority who voted against the increase, saying the money could be used to secure more funding for Phase One of the school building program.

If the building program is going to be successful, Miller said he believes a tax increase will be necessary next summer.

Miller presented a handout to his fellow commissioners at a recent workshop which gave estimates for the amount of a tax increase that will be necessary to fund the first phase, which includes a new cafeteria in Philadelphia and combining Fort Loudoun Middle and Loudon Elementary at a cost of about $18 million and a new school in Greenback at an estimated cost of $29 to $32 million.

In it he said the county currently has enough money available to secure an $11 million loan. A tax increase of  3 cents would allow another $7 million to be borrowed for the schools in Loudon and Philadelphia. To fund the school in Greenback, an increase of 13 to 15 cents is necessary for a total increase of 16 to 18 cents.

He also said the county needs to start replenishing its general fund balance at a tax increase of another 4 cents, and if school operating expenses continue to increase at the current rate, another 8 cents will be necessary, for a total tax increase of  28 to 30 cents next year.

Miller said he hopes the community will support the building program and the necessary tax increase to fund it next year. "I was really sorry that the commission voted for the $1 million (school budget increase)," he said.

Miller said if the schools can secure funding through a tax increase, Phase One of the building program could be completed in the next three years.