More On BOE Budget

Budget cuts considered by school board

Mary E. Hinds News Herald

Several teachers attended the Loudon County School Board's Thursday evening workshop to listen to discussions of the proposed budget for the 2010-2011 school year, which may recommend teachers forego their annual step salary increase again this year to save money. 

The school board's budget committee has been wrestling with ways to cut the system's operating budget in light of less funding from local, state and federal governments during the economic downturn. The system also faces the dilemma of what to put first - money for raises for school personnel or financing Phase I of the school building program. 

Budget committee member Bill Marcus updated the full board on the committee's recommendations to slash $1.6 million from the upcoming budget. The committee had asked for recommendations for cuts from Director of Loudon County Schools Wayne Honeycutt. 

The director reluctantly suggested the elimination of two family liaison positions and that the remaining ones have their salaries cut to $22,000 per year; the elimination of the schools' social worker position; elimination of nine para-pro positions; to move some salaries to be paid for with stimulus money thereby removing them from the county school budget this year; and to eliminate the "double" step raises for teachers (double because the plan had been to give them a double raise this year to make up for the one they lost last year).  

Marcus also noted there is a plan in the works for the state to pay all teachers a 3 percent bonus. Board member Gary Ubben said a bonus was a one time only payment and would not be a part of the yearly budget. He asked what programs might be cut as well.

Honeycutt said he didn't like the idea of cutting any programs but he had tried to find cuts that could be made and not "gut the system." He suggested some ways to use other agencies to take up some of the slack and said the only program being cut outright is the criminal justice program at Greenback, which has few students. 

Marcus said if these cuts are approved it would leave the budget approximately $580,000 in the red and it should be sent on to the county commission to see if they will make up the difference.

Board member Leroy Tate said he didn't like the suggestions and they would force the system to "lose people and cut programs" not to mention put the county schools salary schedule - which took quite a while to get in place- into chaos.

Board member Larry Proaps said the deficit budget should be sent to the commission. "He should ask for what he needs," Proaps said of Honeycutt adding that cuts can be made if the budget is turned down by the commission.

Budget committee member Van Shaver told the teachers in the audience that no one disputes they deserve a step raise, but the "reality is there is only so much money" and little chance of the commission passing a tax increase during this economic downturn and in an election year. Shaver said that leaves only the money in the building fund and if the school board asked for that money for operating expenses the commission would give it but the building program would be done. 

Ubben said that he had run for the school board in order to "improve the quality of education in Loudon County but it's going in the opposite direction" with so many cuts to programs and personnel and the expenditures per student in the county far below the state average. Ubben added, "We've got to pay our teaches more," or risk them leaving as soon as possible or new teachers refusing to take teaching jobs in the county because of the low pay, a phenomenon reflected in the constant turnover in math teachers in the county schools and the subsequent poor math test scores. 

Board member Steve Harrelson said he agreed the deficit budget should be sent to the county commission. "We should ask for what we need," he said.

Board member Bobby Johnson, Jr. also agreed. Johnson urged the teachers at the meeting to voice their concerns with the commission and the mayor as well. "We hear you, be loud about it - let them know how you feel." 

Lisa Russell, who represents Greenback on the school board, expressed fear that any suggestion of using building fund money for the operating budget would make it impossible for Greenback to begin work on a desperately needed new facility. She noted the problems with the building have already led to Greenback students losing instructional time and she was wary of anything that might derail or delay the new school being built.

Ubben said everyone agrees Greenback School needs help but by failing to support teachers and programs the buildings won't matter. Russell said she felt most teachers had gone in teaching for a "love of children" and most parents and teachers would be willing to sacrifice - higher taxes and pay raises - in the best interest of the building program.

The board is set to vote on proposed budget cuts at their next board meeting, April 8 at the Courthouse Annex in Loudon.