Tough talk on budget
Jeremy Styron
After approving a request for $2.1 million in new funds for 2015-16, members of the Loudon County Board of Education faced stiff opposition Thursday as they met with the Loudon County Budget Committee to hash out details of the budget plan.

Loudon County Director of Schools Jason Vance said the new budget, if passed in its entirety, will include either a 4-percent raise for teachers or a new compressed salary schedule to better compensate experienced teachers, a baseline 2 percent step increase, four new science, technology, engineering and mathematics instructors and funds for additional expenses related to the operation of the school system.

He said previously that the $2.1 million requested increase will amount to a 20-cent tax hike if Loudon County Commission, the BOE’s fiduciary body, passed the school district’s budget.
“In my opinion (this is) not a pie in the sky budget, but one that I think is fair,” Vance said. “And so when we consider the overall budget — I know it increases taxes in order to support what we’re asking for — but I think what the question is if we don’t provide what we need in order for our kids to be more successful, are we not taxing them later on down the road?”
Budget Committee member Van Shaver disputed the BOE’s fund balance amount, noting that in 2010, the BOE’s balance was about $3.2 million, and at the end of 2014, it was at more than $8.7 million. He said he did not hear from Vance how a reduction in the overall school population of 7 percent could result in savings for the county.
“Your enrollment’s down about 7 percent since 2010, and I’m not asking (for) the whole 7 percent (back),” Shaver said. “I just think 5 percent or a nickel, I think a nickel returned back to the county (is sufficient) from the school because you’re generating more money each year, so in case you didn’t know, that’s where I’m at.”
“Commissioner Shaver, I would agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong,” Vance said.
Budget Committee member Steve Harrelson also disputed whether the BOE’s fund balance would be as low as Vance argued at the end of the budget.
“Let’s all be honest here,” Harrelson said. “At the end of this year, your fund balance is not going to be $4.6 (million). In your honest opinion, is it really going to be 4.6?”
Vance estimated that the BOE will have between $4.6-$5 million in its fund balance if every dollar was allocated as part of the funding plan, taking into account prepaid costs, encumbrances and other expenses.
Gary Ubben, one of numerous BOE members who sat in on the meeting, said that based on Loudon County’s spending of about $8,300 per student, the county was falling behind most surrounding districts.
“We’re almost the lowest one on both of those charts,” Ubben said referring to Vance’s presentation comparing education spending across multiple districts in East Tennessee.
Shaver said data can be compared in numerous ways to draw different conclusions based on one’s perspective.
“And you pick the comparison school systems, you can make it (anything) you want it,” Shaver said. “If you take the 95 (county) school systems and Loudon County, where are we on that number?”
“That’s a totally unrealistic comparison,” Ubben said. “That’s a totally irrelevant number. The relevant number is the districts that surround us, our competition, where our teachers go.”
Budget Committee member Henry Cullen said that based on calls he has received from constituents, public opinion did not favor a tax increase for additional BOE money this year.
“They don’t want the increase,” Cullen said. “They wonder what’s going on in the school district, and they’re not willing to step up. You’re going to take the flack for a 20-cent increase.”
Harrelson, who said he was “flabbergasted” when he heard the BOE was requesting a $2.1 million increase, said other departments in the county have done a good job in trimming their budgets.
“We’ve almost got a zero percent increase in almost every department we’re dealing with in the county, and then we’re getting to the one big one, and then we’re (being asked) for 2 million more dollars,” Harrelson said.
Vance said any significant decreases in the BOE’s budget would mean dropping employees.
“Really, in our budget to cut big money out of our budget we’ve got to cut people,” Vance said. “I think to cut people out of the school system is going to be detrimental just to be honest.”
Shaver said that in other parts of the budget, the county has prioritized on where to spend and cut money, noting that taxpayers have already provided a 20-cent tax increase for school facilities and for other school needs in recent years.
“You can’t have everything; the people can’t afford anymore of that sort of stuff,” Shaver said. “We took every budget line-by-line, and, man, if it didn’t have to be (spent) — we cut $800,000 out of the general fund budget, and it’s half of you all’s budget. Eight hundred thousand dollars. You all didn’t cut anything.”
Cullen said he would not be able to support a 20-cent tax increase, reiterating Shaver’s statement. “You can’t get everything,” Cullen said.
“That isn’t everything,” BOE Chairman Ric Best said. “That’s the education of our young people.”
The Budget Committee will make a recommendation on the BOE’s funding plan at a later meeting.

Loudon schools request denied by county commission budget committee