Loudon County BOE passes new budget

Jeremy Styron-News-Herald

After some discussion between Director of Schools Jason Vance and board member Van Shaver on specific line items, the Loudon County Board of Education passed its $35 million budget 7-1, with Shaver recording the dissenting vote.

Shaver said he would not vote for the budget because of concerns about teacher raises that he addressed during the board's May 3 workshop.

"I just think in this economic time, the way things are, it's kind of hard to justify the amount, the level of raises that we're proposing to hand out here when so many other folks are struggling, so I'll vote no for that reason," Shaver said.

Board members Lisa Russell and Craig Simon were not present. No other board members commented on the budget.

Shaver first questioned a $38,697 increase for teacher assistants to the regular instruction section of the budget.

"Is that additional personnel? That couldn't just be raises is it?" Shaver said.

Vance said the increase was reflected in the budget because of the incremental step increases awarded to teachers based on experience and qualifications.

"We've actually cut personnel out of our assistant teacher line item," Vance said. "I think the numbers ... from last year to this year's budget is increases for the step."

Shaver also asked Vance about a lack of raises for custodial personnel. The school system budgeted $54,093 for custodians in the new budget, which is the same amount as in the previous fiscal year.

"I see no increases reflected there from last year to this year," Shaver said.

"It's a rate negotiated on my part," Vance said to some quiet laughter from those in attendance.
"OK," Shaver said slightly sardonically.

After the discussion on the budget, the board voted 8-0 to pull money from the fund balance to make up for the budget's $300,000 shortfall and not ask the Loudon County Commission for additional funds.

"When you present this to the commission, you will advise them that somewhere down the road, we're going to get caught up with playing this game?" member Leroy Tate asked Vance.

"We're making a statement that this is two years in a row that we've not asked for additional funds where every county around us is asking for additional funds," Vance said.

After the school system takes the $300,000 to make up for the budget deficit, Vance said the board would still have $3.6 million in the fund balance.

Shaver said at the end of the meeting that he commended Vance in making some "tough decisions" in presenting a workable budget to the board.

"I didn't vote for his budget tonight, and he knows why," Shaver said. "... But he's done better than I've ever seen anybody in that position do on a budget, and the expectation is he'll just get better and better. Next year, it might be balanced."

The board also got an update from Merit Construction of Knoxville regarding the three projects that are currently under way. The school system is currently in the process of building new schools in Greenback at a cost of about $22.66 million and a new school at Fort Loudoun Middle at a cost of $16.72 million. The school system is also constructing a new cafeteria at Philadelphia Elementary School.

Greenback's new building is expected to be 151,000 square feet, while Fort Loudoun Middle is expected to span 95,000 square feet.

After a brief explanation on how the projects were proceeding, Tate asked the Merit representatives about some dirt problems at Fort Loudoun.

"You name it, we've had it right now," Patrick O'Hara, project manager at the middle school, said.
O'Hara said workers had encountered a type of "high plasticitiy soil" that could not be compacted to serve as fill dirt for the building pad and parking lot area.

"We've been hitting seams of good  dirt, and they've been allowing us to put that in the building pad and underneath the parking lot down deep, but as we come up, we're going to have to acquire some offsite material," O'Hara told the board.

Tate then accused Merit of not being upfront with the board about the dirt issues.

"It would have been nice if we had known this was going on instead of getting it second or third hand," Tate said. "I hate to be left in the dark on stuff like that because we're paying the bill. You know, it's just like you hear it second or third hand, it makes me wonder what kind of job I'm getting."

"Well, we've had two meetings over the past few weeks at the site to discuss this very thing," O'Hara answered.

"First I've heard about it," Tate said. "How come we're not invited?"

Shaver said he said he thought board members were invited to Merit's construction meetings. "If you do have meetings - I'm sure you do almost on a weekly type basis - I'm sure if any board members want to go if you contacted them I guess they can come can't they?"

"We have no problem with anybody attending the meetings," O'Hara said.

Vance said he would communicate with Tate about when the construction meetings take place.

In other business, the board:

● Approved changes to the school system's Internet use policy for staff and students. The new policy includes additional requirements about student instruction in Internet safety, which will include how to appropriately interact with others on social networking sites and in chat rooms. Instruction will also include awareness about cyber bullying.

● Approved numerous summer sports, band and academic camps for Greenback School, Loudon High School, Philadelphia Elementary School and North Middle School.

● Approved Tyler Gaskin for a paid basketball coaching position at Greenback to replace Patrick Bethel and approved Chad Presley for an unpaid basketball coaching position at Fort Loudoun Middle School.

● Approved a bus route transfer from Dennis Roland to Delmar Davis.