Loudon panel to review school budget

Building program may be delayed if funds shifted

Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
The Loudon County School building program could be moved to the back burner if officials decide to shift revenue from the school building fund to pay for operating expenses that include teacher raises.
On Monday, the Loudon County Commission will review several options related to the school budget.

The school board is asking for an additional $1.25 million in additional operating expenses.

A total of $813,918.34 of that is being requested for raises - $214,259 in step raises for teachers and 2 percent across-the-board raises and a 2 percent bonus for noncertified personnel.

The balance of the $1.25 million would go to retirement fund contributions.

The commission's budget committee is expected to offer more than one option for funding all or part of the request by moving property tax revenue from the building fund to the operating fund.

As part of the proposal, the county would also assume liability for a school efficiency loan.

According to Commissioner Don Miller, who sits on the budget committee, one proposal would fund up to $1 million of the shortfall but would leave little money going into the building fund to pay interest on a building loan. Funding the entire $1.25 million shortfall would "wipe out the school building program for this year," he said.

Miller said he would present an alternate plan that would fund about $660,000 of the request and still leave enough money in the school building fund to finance $16 million in new construction.

The first phase of the school building program has been estimated at $37 million. The largest part of the program would be a new school in Greenback. A new middle school in Loudon and improvements to the Philadelphia School cafeteria are also included.

Commissioner Wayne Gardin said he supports school improvements but thinks its more important to see teachers get raises.

"We didn't give them anything last year," he said.

Gardin said he would support a property tax increase next year to fund the school building program, assuming the school system could stick to their operating budget. If the school operating budget comes up short by $1 million again next year, it might push the building program further into the future.

School board member Gary Ubben said he believes in the importance of funding the operating budget and the building plan. He also believes the county can afford both.

"I don't think it should be an either or situation," he said.

Ubben said the operating budget reflects the real cost of operating the schools.

"We submitted a budget based on our needs," he said.

Other board members point the finger at wasteful spending.

According to board member Van Shaver, the budget decisions have nothing to do with the building program but everything to do with the unsustainable spending spree the schools have been on for the last several years.

The school system increased expenditures by nearly $12 million over the last five years, hiring 165 new teachers and assistants while enrolling only 64 new students during that same time period.

County Commission has enacted two property tax increases in the last five years adding 40 cents to the tax rate. The school department has received 39 cents of the increase, he said.

"The harsh reality is, the Loudon County school system does not suffer from a lack of funding but from gross mismanagement and reckless spending of the precious funds it receives," Shaver said.