State slashes family resource centers

Stephanie Myers-News-Herald

Next year's proposed state budget offers no money for family resource centers, but Lenoir City Schools leadership says it will find a way to keep the program.

"Absolutely we will," Superintendent Wayne Miller said when asked if the center will continue without state money. "We will have to fund with local money."

Susan Fox, director of the Lenoir City Schools Family Resource Center, said state money for the center has dwindled in recent years. Only about a third of its budget, or $28,000, comes from Tennessee.

But that doesn't mean the local system won't try to secure state dollars.

"The budget is not final yet. And family resource centers across the state of Tennessee are having ongoing dialogs with our legislators to try to get them to look at the programs we offer in the local schools and to see validity to that," Fox said. "They are putting pressure on the state to reinstate the funds. That is the ultimate hope."

Money for the centers has been on a list of nonrecurring funds for the past two years, meaning essentially that funding was cut then. There are 103 family resource centers in 78 Tennessee school systems.
Miller told Lenoir City Board of Education members about the funding cut at a Thursday workshop.

"If the money was there, they would fund them," Miller said. "We've been lucky. Administrators have been able to make savings elsewhere so they can reinstate the expenditures over the years. However, this year they are not able to do that."

Now, school systems are on their own.

"They have been able to restore funds, but this year they weren't," Kelli Gauthier, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Education, said. "It's been a matter of whether or not those funds could be restored and the nonrecurring funds include other things beside education."

Gauthier said there were about $63 million in nonrecurring funds and Gov. Bill Haslam's office restored $48 million.

"It is definitely not a reflection of the performance of any of these programs," she said. "There was just not enough money to restore all the programs that were in nonrecurring."

Local funding will play a larger role in the years to come if state funds are indeed gone.

"My hope would be - my commitment would be - to impress on our local school board, and certainly Mr. Miller, the importance of what we do in the school system and see the value in picking up the remaining funds we would be losing," Fox said.

Both Loudon County and Lenoir City school systems have benefited from a family resource program for many years, she said.

"I think as a result of a downed economy that the state is looking for every dollar where they can best use those dollars and they are not looking at the programs and services that would be eliminated by nonfunding of family resource centers," Fox said.

Each individual school system will determine whether or not it will be able to supplement lost dollars.

"We have been fortunate that when we had less revenue coming in from the state level the local school board has picked up the rest because our local school board felt the need for the family resource center," Fox said.

If nothing happens in Nashville, funding will end July 1.

"We will just continue to do the service that we have always provided to our families. That's what we are here for and we're not going to be changing that," Fox said.

Miller said the program is essential to local schools.

"I think it is a key component to helping our parents to get the resources they need to help our students be successful," Miller said. "It provides a social support many of our students wouldn't get without the family resource center program.

"The commissioner has made a commitment that he will review it again this year," he said. "I do feel positive that he understands the importance of it, especially to rural school systems."

If not, the local school system has a game plan.

"We will bark again. We are speaking with our representatives, hoping they will carry the message forward," Miller said.