Tight school budget foreseen

Loudon board will review early numbers today

The Loudon County School Board won't know for another month how much money it will receive this year, but some board members already are preparing for a very tight budget next year.

The board will review preliminary budget numbers at its regular meeting today.

"We've actually been working on this budget for months," Superintendent Wayne Honeycutt said.

Although the school system has been able to hold down spending, reduced revenue from the state combined with hopes for a new school building plan could make next year one of the tightest budgets in recent years.

"Revenue from the state will certainly be much less," Honeycutt said. "Every projection we see from the state keeps going down."

Just how much less revenue is available will make the difference between holding the line at present levels of spending or having to make major cuts for next year, he said.

School board member Van Shaver already is predicting a major shortfall based on revenue received up to the end of May.

"With less than 30 days left in this fiscal year we are $3.2 million behind projected budget revenue," Shaver said. The school system has a $38 million annual budget.

Additional revenue is expected from BEP funding and payments from TVA, but they won't be anywhere near $3.2 million, Shaver said. BEP might generate another million dollars before the end of the fiscal year, he estimated.

With an additional $300,000 from next year's school operating budget being moved to help the proposed $30 million to $40 million school building plan, it's almost certain revenue for next year will come up short of projections, Shaver said.

Because 2010 is an election year, it's also unlikely that county commission would want to raise taxes to pick up the schools system's shortfall, he added.

"It's not a good time to raise taxes," agreed County Commissioner Nancy Marcus.

With the knowledge that revenue is low and expectations are high, it's time to start cutting, Shaver said.

"Our only option is to look for areas within our operating budget where cuts can be made that would least impact student education," Shaver said.

Board member Gary Ubben said he feels it is too early to start talking about major cuts when it's not yet certain how much money is actually going to be available. "We may not get final numbers until August," he said.

Among the money-saving ideas Shaver has considered are a hiring freeze, elimination of the pre-kindergarten program, day care, family liaisons, coordinated health and the family resource center.

Shaver said he is concerned that some increases have already been proposed for 2009-10 budget, such as pay raises for staff and teachers estimated at from $500,000 to more than $1 million.

"That's all fine and good, but the question must be answered: Where do we get the money?" he said.