Loudon County Schools face huge deficit

Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com

LOUDON Loudon County Schools are facing a $1.6 million budget deficit in the coming year that might endanger proposed increases in teacher pay.

The school board budget committee took its first look at the $36.7 million 2015-2016 budget Tuesday.

"We're $1.6 million in the hole," schools director Jason Vance told the committee.

After five years of virtually no increase in funding, the deficit is primarily due to unavoidable increases in utilities, insurance and transportation costs which together account for almost $1 million, Vance said.

Probably the biggest challenge is increasing teacher pay.

The current budget includes a 2 percent step increase for teachers. Gov. Bill Haslam has spoken about giving all teachers a 4 percent raise but it's still not clear how much new money will actually be available, Vance said.

Loudon has been losing good teachers to other counties because of low pay, Vance said. He said he is watching closely how other counties will increase teacher pay.

All the committee members agreed that removing the 2 percent step raises to help balance the budget was out of the question.

"We can't take that away from them," said board member Craig Simon.

Adding another 2 percent raise to the existing 2 percent step raises would cost about $400,000, much of which might come from the state if Haslam's plan is implemented. Giving the teachers a 4 percent raise on top of the 2 percent step raises would require almost $1 million in new funding.

With the BOE emergency fund balance dipping to a low of about $3 million, the board has no choice but to ask county commission for an increase in funding, committee members agreed.

"Can't we ask them to put some more money in?" said board chairman Ric Best.

Faced with the challenge of balancing the budget without more funding from commission, Vance said he would be forced to look at cutting the budget for items such as technology.