|Loudon County Commissioners dropped what could only be described as
a bombshell on the board of education at Monday's commission workshop.
The commission budget committee, which is comprised of four commissioners and the county mayor, presented an amended 2014-2015 budget proposal to the full commission that would effectively take approximately $280,000.00 from the board of education budget and move it into the county general fund. The move would also take approximately $120,000.00 from the Lenoir City schools operating budget. I'll try to explain.
There is a state law called "maintenance of effort" (MOE). The effect of the maintenance of effort law is that the county commission can never reduce the amount of funding it provides to the schools from one year to the next. But there is one exception. If a school system's enrollment goes down, the amount of funding required under the maintenance of effort law can also be reduced.
Back in 2009, when I was on the school board, we voted to end the practice of allowing out of county students to enroll in the Loudon County school system. A survey at the time showed that we had hundreds of out of county students in the Loudon County school system putting a strain on the school system's limited resources and facilities. The decision at the time allowed all the existing out of county students who were enrolled to finish their education in the county system but no new out of county students would be enrolled. Now five years later the results are that the school system's enrollment has decreased.
As I said before, there is only one exception to the maintenance of effort, lower enrollment. I think I heard someone the other night say the enrollment is down by approximately 10% in five years and 2% over the last year.
What all this means is that the county commission can legally reduce the amount of funding going to the school system. And since all the funding from the county to the county school system is shared with the Lenoir City on a per student ratio, the city system will also see a reduction in funding.
If you're a fiscal conservative like myself, this all sounds great. School enrollment down, lower spending, tax payers save money. Not exactly. Along with the budget committee's recommendation to reduce education funding by more than $400,000.00 they also recommended moving that funding into the county government general operating fund. So the tax payers save nothing. Just took from Peter to give to Paul.
Remember Monday I reported to you about the four penny property tax cut proposed by the commission? Well that's going to pass. So if commission is going to take the funding from the schools, rather that just roll it over into the county general fund, why not also give that savings back to the tax payers? That could be another two and a half cent reduction in the property tax rate. Six or six and a half cent property reduction is better than a four cent reduction.
Just a thought.