Should Lenoir City Be In The School Business?

A Viewer Requested Report

This debate has raged for years. The question is, should there be two school systems in Loudon County? Not many years ago, nearly every community had it's own school. Browder, West Hills, Walnut Street, Providence, Pine Grove, Burdett, Oak Grove, and so on. The many schools were necessary due to the lack of transportation. Most students had to walk to school so the schools had to be close to the community. Over time, roads improved, bus transportation became more readily available. Economics forced the closure or consolidation of most of the small community schools to the point of where the school system is now.

Loudon County operates nine schools, Eaton Elementary, Fort Loudon Middle, Greenback, Highland Park Elementary, Loudon Elementary, Loudon High, North Middle, Philadelphia Elementary, Steekee Elementary. Lenoir City operates three, Lenoir City Elementary, Lenoir City Middle, Lenoir City High. Loudon City operates no schools.

The main argument for the elimination of the Lenoir City School system is the added cost to city residents who pay for both school systems through their property and other taxes. A closer look at these costs might reveal whether or not Lenoir City should or should not be in the school business.

All school systems receive their funding from three primary sources, Federal, State and local taxes. By far, the largest source of funding comes from the State. How much money would Lenoir City government save if their system were consolidated with the county system? Using the 2006-2007 Lenoir City schools general fund budget,(PDF) the city of Lenoir City contributed $164,000.00 to their system. Another $84,270.00 was contributed by LCUB in lieu of taxes and city residents contributed $90,175.00 in property taxes. Only a nickel of Lenoir's $1.30 property tax goes to the schools. If the school systems were consolidated, the immediate savings for city government could be approximately $338,500.00 per year. The largest local funding for Lenoir City Schools come through sales tax. Combining of the systems would not change the sales tax distribution and would not add revenue to city government.

Lenoir City Schools also maintain a separate fund know as the Sales Tax Fund.(PDF)One half cent of the sales tax collected in the city and the county are designated to the sales tax fund. This fund is exclusively for the debt service of the city schools. This half cent generated $726,000.00 in 07. It would take legislative and/or voter action to change this funding.

The next most common argument is the waste in duplication of services. Two school boards, two directors and two system offices and associated costs. What are those costs? In 2007, the cost of the Lenoir City BOE and central office (PDF) was approximately $320,000.00. The 2007 cost for the Lenoir City Schools Office of Superintendent was $232,016.00. While consolidation would not necessarily eliminate all half million dollars of these associated costs, a large savings to education operations could be realized.

The third most common complaint is the lack any of representation on the Lenoir City School Board for the county residents who have students in the city system. By most accounts, nearly 70% of the city school system's 2168 enrollment are county students. However the city Board Of Education is entirely represented by city residents. This on occasion leaves the parents of county students feeling left out of the decision making processes in the city school system. In fact in 2007, Loudon County was required to contribute 31% of revenues or nearly five million dollars to the city schools based on the percentage of county students in the city system, mostly at Lenoir City High School.

In summery, the consolidation of the Lenoir City school system and the Loudon County school system appears to have a number of positive aspects for city government, education as a whole and city and county residents. The city government could realize an absolute and nearly immediate savings of nearly $340,000.00 and with a change to the sales tax structure, that total could go higher than a million dollars that could be used by the city for much needed infrastructure improvements. On the down side, well there really doesn't seem to be a down side.

It may be time for politics and egos to be set aside for what's best for the students and citizens. I report, you decide.