Loudon BEP money may not add up to estimates School budget could still fall short of enough cash to fill needs

By HUGH G. WILLETT, knoxnews.com
June 13, 2007

New estimates that Loudon County schools may get less than a million dollars in extra funding from the new Basic Education Program will send the school board back to the drawing board to balance the 2007-08 budget.

New BEP 2.0 funding numbers show that the county might only receive $982,000 in extra funding - of which some may already be earmarked for special programs - instead of the more than $1.3 million estimated by the county commission at Monday night's meeting.

The current school budget submitted to commission is about $1 million more than the $34 million that the commission has approved and already includes serious cuts in staffing and school activities.

The school board received the new estimates from Robert Greene, assistant commissioner of education, at a meeting of school superintendents Tuesday morning in Knoxville.

The school board budget committee will be meeting as soon as possible to create a new strategy based on the reduced estimates, said Nancy Paule, chairwoman of the school board budget committee.

Paule has been skeptical of counting on the BEP bonanza to solve the budget crisis because the figures have not been confirmed and because the board does not know if it will have full discretionary power over the use of the funds.

The new estimates mean the proposed budget cuts in school athletics and bus transportation are back in play, though the school board denies that it is using the controversial proposals as political footballs.

Assistant Superintendent Gil Luttrell said he was personally disturbed by what seemed to be an adversarial relationship between the school board and the county commission.

"It was never our intention to put pressure on the commission or to use the budget cuts as a political ploy," he said. "We had no choice but to cut bus transportation and athletics."

The county commission, which declined by a 6-4 vote at its last meeting to increase school funding to cover the $1.1 million shortfall, has been standing firm on the budget in the belief that the BEP might provide an additional $1.3 million boost to the schools' resources.

County Commissioner Don Miller suggested at Monday night's commission meeting that the school board's proposals to cut athletics, bus transportation, several school nurses and resource officers were a result of bad budget decisions for which the board had to take responsibility.

"They had school athletics and buses last year," he said. "This year we're giving them more than we did last year."

Loudon County lost an estimated $300,000 in expected 2007-08 funding because of a clause in the new BEP that limits total funding based on the county meeting certain criteria related to fiscal capacity to pay, according to Wayne Miller, superintendent of Lenoir City schools.