School Board budget request denied
Mary E. Hinds News Herald


The Loudon County Commission voted to reject the request from the county school board for additional funds to cover the school budget shortfall. The school board had asked for nearly $800,000 in additional funds to finance the operating budget for 2009-2010 - a sum that was to include approximately $400,000 for textbook and a 2 percent raise for teachers. The county budget committee had recommended the commission grant the board the additional funds. 

When the entire budget was presented at Monday night's commission meeting for a vote, Commissioner Don Miller immediately moved to amend the proposed budget to keep the school system's budget at the minimum amount needed to meet the "maintenance of effort" required by the state, essentially the same as last year. Commissioner Austin Shaver quickly seconded the motion calling it the "fiscally responsible" thing to do. 

In the meetings leading up to the Monday vote, commissioners have been divided on whether it was better to fund more in the school's operating budget or put the same amount in the Rural Debt Fund to finance more bonds for the proposed building program. Commissioner Harold Duff objected to the idea saying the commission was obligated to fund both new buildings and the operating budget. 

Shaver said he wanted to make it clear he was not against salaries and textbooks and it is up to the school board to decide on how to spend the available funds. "We can't line item the school budget," he said adding the commission could only decide on how much to fund and then tell the school board "this is how much you have to spend - spend it wisely." 

Miller said he didn't take making such a motion lightly but if the commission doesn't put more money in the rural debt fund it could lead to higher property taxes in coming years to pay for the building program. He also noted the school system has had increased expenditures of 8 percent per year for the last five years and this year most county departments have decreased their budgets to compensate for the bad economy. Miller said the county has put a considerable amount of money in the school system for five years but that the commissioners "are responsible to all county citizens to minimize costs."  

Commissioner Harold Duff said the building program should be discussed at another meeting and blending the debate on the operating budget and the building program could "confuse the public." Miller countered saying the two subjects were linked and more money set aside now means "less taxes in the future." 

The amendment passed by a six to four margin with Commissioners Gardin, Miller, Shaver, Earlena Maples, Bob Franke  and Chairman Roy Bledsoe voting in favor and Commissioners Chris Parks, Marcus, David Meers and Duff voting against. 

Speaking the morning after the meeting, Director of Loudon County Schools Wayne Honeycutt said the $800,000 in additional funding the school board requested included $400,000 for textbooks and the proposed 2 percent salary increase for school personnel. During the meeting Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp offered a partial solution - taking money for the textbooks from the Rural Debt Fund as a capital item. "It was a very pleasant surprise last night to look at us taking it out of school debt," Honeycutt said, adding school officials have just learned the state will raise insurance rates only 4 percent not the 10 percent in the proposed budget. He wasn't sure exactly how much that will save. "Where the other cuts will come I don't know at this point. We'll have to get together as a staff and look at some of those options we didn't want to look at previously," he said. 

The school board has a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday night. Honeycutt said he and his staff will have some ideas for budget cuts to present to the board and a much better idea how much will need to be trimmed. "I'm gonna try my doggone best to have some options. We're going try to give the board some idea of what to look at," he said noting the board may have to call a special meeting to settle their final budget. "We need to move forward and we'll have some recommendations available Thursday night," he said.