Loudon County school board struggles with budget

LOUDON - The Loudon County Board of Education continued to wrestle with more than $2 million in cuts Thursday in an effort to balance the 2008-2009 school budget.

The proposed cuts, which would eliminate the 2 percent annual raise for teachers and nonlicensed staff, would still leave the board more than $1.3 million short of the $3.3 million total budget overruns. The cuts also include three music and arts positions, five growth positions, technology funds, central office administrative positions, maintenance personnel, even the board members' salaries. A hiring freeze on non-Basic Education Program positions would save $340,000.

The board agreed to hold another workshop Monday to review the proposed cuts before sending the budget to county commission.

"Nobody wants to lay anybody off," said board chairman Bobby Johnson Jr. But he acknowledged that ultimately the Loudon County Commission would make the decision. If the commission will not accept the proposed budget overruns, the only recourse will be to begin cutting from nonmandated teaching positions.

"It's going to be tough. We really need to look at everything," said board member Fred Walker Jr.

The school board has already created a list of at least a dozen more teaching positions that might be on the block if the county commission insists on a balanced budget.

School board candidate Lisa Russell of Greenback offered suggestions to reduce the cuts and endorsed the idea of moving the responsibility for school maintenance from the school department to the county. Such a move might save close to $200,000.

Loudon resident Pat Hunter said she thinks the county commission should be asked to tighten its belt if the schools are forced to make drastic cuts. Hunter lambasted county commission for agreeing to pay the city of Loudon $390,000 to fund the building of a road into Tennessee National, an upscale golf and residential development. Almost the same amount, $380,000 earmarked for textbooks, is on the block in the education budget.

In an effort to increase school funding, the commission has already approved an eight-cent increase in the property tax rate. If the county tried to fund the entire $3.3 million 2008-2009 shortfall, it would require a property tax increase in the neighborhood of about 46 cents from the current rate of $1.84.

Funding the estimated $100 million building program might require a doubling of the property tax to somewhere around $3.60 per $100 of assessed value, said Don Miller, county commissioner and budget committee member.