They're Back

Last year facing a major budget shortfall and a multimillion dollar building program on the horizon, the Loudon County School Board inexplicably voted to take $16,000.00 from their maintenance funds to donate to a local non profit organization.

The Loudon County Education Foundation had requested the donation to help support their operations. The foundation purports to benefit both Lenoir City and Loudon County school systems with various assistance programs.

The most recent financial statement available for the foundation shows that nearly 64% of their $119,000 budget went to foundation salaries and operations.

After last year's donation board member Lisa Russell requested an Attorney General's opinion on the matter through state representative Jimmy Matlock. The Attorney General's opinion states that a board of education has no authority to make donations to non-profits.

Click Here To Read AGO

With this year's budget even tighter and the attorney general's opinion stating the donation would be illegal, the Loudon County Education Foundation is again back with their hand out. They're again asking for another $16,000.00.

Education Foundation's are not new. Many schools and districts in Knox and surrounding counties are supported by foundations. However the Loudon County Education Foundation appears to be the only one who takes money from the schools rather than giving to the schools. Last year Loudon County Schools gave the foundation $16,000.00 and Lenoir City Schools gave the foundation $8,000.00.

One foundation in Knox County raised $200,000.00 their school. The Oak Ridge Foundation raised more than 8 million dollars for the school's building program. But in Loudon County, our foundation needs the school systems to support them.

To Director Wayne Honeycutt's credit, he informed the foundation and the school board that depending on how this year's budget turns out, "we may not have sixteen dollars to give away.

Below is a link to a story about area foundations.

School Foundation: Who Has One, Who Wants One And Why  
By Rebecca Williams

LCEF director requests funds from schools

Mary E. Hinds News Herald

Michele Dicken, the new executive director of the Loudon County Education Foundation (LCEF), came to the county school board workshop Thursday night to ask the board to consider reinstating the traditional $16,000 for the foundation into the 2009-2010 school budget. The Lenoir City School System approved their usual $8,000 for this year. 

She described the LCEF as the "central hub" for business and community members to contribute to county and city students. Dicken said the $16,000 is "a small amount for the vast services we provide."  Those services include the Young Achievers Awards, awards for outstanding teachers and new teachers, scholarships for high school seniors and GED graduates along with leadership programs such as Leadership Loudon County for Adults, an annual essay contest for grades 3-8, classroom grants to teachers, a teachers' workshop and resource center and continuing education grants for teachers to study Spanish. 

She told the board losing the Loudon County Schools' contribution "would really hurt us" and if a lack of funds caused them to cut programs "the kids are going to be the ones who suffer." 

Board member Lisa Russell said while no one doubts the good works of the foundation, it the legality of the contribution that concerns her. She referenced a recent opinion by the state attorney general that stated school boards are not allowed to give donations to non-profit organizations. Russell said she didn't think there could be a question after the AG's opinion. 

Board member Van Shaver also said he didn't think a contribution was a good idea. He said the LCEF was "asking for support from the school system they're there to support" and given the AG's opinion "we cant' give you money and in my opinion we shouldn't."

Not all were opposed to finding a way to continue supporting the organization. Board member Gary Ubben said the relatively small contribution from the county schools results in a much greater return on the investment in the form of programs for county students and teachers. 

The board had originally asked the county commission to take over contributing to the LCEF but the commission had sent it back to the school board. Director of Loudon County Schools Wayne Honeycutt called his experience with the foundation "outstanding" and said the county school system receives "four or five times" the amount in services for the investment. 

Honeycutt said while the attorney general's opinion was that school boards cannot make a donation, the board's attorney disagrees and the school system "can provide funds but not as a donation."

Honeycutt also said if the board wanted to give money to a support organization there is "no better place to put it" than the LCEF.  The county schools Budget Director Alysa Phipps said she had been in contact with state officials and found the board could give funds to the LCEF but not as a contribution to a non-profit organization but through a contract and it would be budgeted as "other services."  The board is set to vote on funds for the LCEF on Oct. 15.