Committee OKs school budget in Loudon

It now goes to entire commission

By Hugh Willett

The Loudon County Commission budget committee voted 4 to 1 Thursday to recommend approving a 2009-2010 school budget that includes a 2 percent pay raise for teachers.

The almost $38 million school budget must still be approved by the entire commission.

Commissioner Wayne Gardin said he has already made up his mind.

"I can't support it," he said.

Giving the teachers a 2 percent raise would mean that all county employees should get a raise, something the county can't afford to do without raising taxes, Gardin said.

An additional 30 percent of the money budgeted to the Loudon County schools will have to be provided to Lenoir City schools, he said.

"We're asking every department in the county to get by on what they had last year," he said. "The school department is asking for almost a million dollars more."

Commissioner Don Miller was the only member of the budget committee who voted against the school budget. Commissioners Harold Duff, Chris Park and David Mears, along with County Mayor Doyle Arp, voted to recommend the budget to the commission.

Miller said he was concerned that the school budget has risen about 8 percent per year for the last five years while inflation has only risen 5 percent. The school board is asking for $793,000 more than last year, even though there has been virtually no increase in the number of students, he said.

"All the other county departments have tightened their belts," Miller said.

If the county is going to be able to fund a school building program without raising taxes, the school department is going to have to make some cuts in its operating expenses, he said.

Miller agreed that the raise for teachers will put pressure on the commission to provide raises for other county employees. He also pointed out that time is running out for the county to finalize the budget. The school departments could lose state funding if the budget is not submitted soon.

Gardin said he has worked as a teacher and is sensitive to the importance of education and the need to maintain competitive pay but that the current economic situation just does not allow for such budget or tax increases.

"This country is in an economic depression," he said.

Gardin said he would like to see the school board looking at policies that would improve the quality of education without increasing the costs to the system.

School budget passes committee
Mary E. Hinds News Herald

The Loudon County Commission Budget Committee will recommend the school board's budget request be approved and then some. 

Director of Schools Wayne Honeycutt addressed the budget committee and answered questions Thursday. The school board sent to the committee an estimated budget of $37,127,000 with a deficit of approximately $727,000 that would be reduced by $430,000 by purchasing all textbooks from the system's reserve funds. The proposed budget also included a 2 percent raise for all school personnel.


The school board opted to send the proposed budget to the committee in hopes that the county commission would give the schools more money, an amount estimated at $365,000 from growth revenues that would have helped balance the budget and left a small amount to put in reserves. Honeycutt told the commissioners any further cuts in the school budget would result in a need to reduce programs or personnel, which he advised against. 

Commissioner Don Miller told school officials present that the budget committee "wants what is best" for the schools but "we're in a depression right now and we can only afford to do so much." Several budget committee members, including Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp, questioned the decision to purchase new textbooks from the board's reserve funds for the second year in a row. "You can get into cash flow problems," Arp warned. "It's not a good practice," Honeycutt agreed.


Since textbooks are purchased on a six year rotation - science this year, social studies next year, and so on - if the board were to forgo buying new textbooks for science in this budget, it would be six years before it would be time to buy science textbooks again by which time the old texts would be obsolete. 

"Next year is going to be a tough year again," warned Miller urging the committee to be cautious and adding the school system received less than expected funds from the state this year and will probably get even less next year. He also reminded the committee of the upcoming Phase I of the building program, projected to cost $47 million. 

Miller estimated the school system's budget deficit at $793,000 and said if that amount is funded the money would have to come from shifting more tax pennies from other departments which could include pennies used to put aside money for the school building program. Miller also said if the county put $793,000 into the building program it would support an additional loan of almost $10 million.

"Every dollar we can put in the school building fund is a dollar less that might have to come out of future property taxes," Miller said in a handout.  He reminded the committee in the last four years the county has had a 40 cent property tax increase of which 39 cents went to the county schools including 24 cent for the operating budget and 15 cents for the school building program.

He calculated in the last five years the school operating budget has increased by 43.4 percent per year, or approximately 8.6 percent per year, while inflation has only increased by 3 percent and there has been "very little student population growth."


Miller also decried the set-up that gives the county commission the responsibility to fund the school system but not the authority to oversee the school budget while the school board has the authority to set the budget by no responsibility to fund it. 


After much discussion, Miller made a motion for the budget committee to send the budget back the school board informing them the county would only contribute the same amount as last year without the requested $793,000 to balance their budget. 

His motion died for lack of a second. 


Commissioner Harold Duff then moved the budget committee recommend to the commission that the school board budget be funded as requested but including the amount the board was prepared to take from fund balance to pay for textbooks - in other words the entire $793,000. 


The committee voted in favor of recommending the budget request with only Miller voting against the measure. "I'll support this but I won't guarantee the end result," said committee member Commissioner David Meers. Commissioner Chris Park said that while the building program was clearly needed, "We need to take care of what we have first." Honeycutt was grateful to the committee. "Thank you very much. Our kids thank you," he said.

The budget committee's recommendation will be put to the full county commission for a vote at the Sept. 7 meeting. If the full commission rejects the recommendation the school board will have to go back to the drawing board for a new budget request further delaying not only the school system's budget but the entire county budget as well.