Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

April 10, 2013

School system gives city easement for sidewalks

Patton warns board on Ten Commandments

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — The Cumberland County Board of Education voted March 28 to donate an easement of property on Fourth St. to the city of Crossville for construction of a sidewalk.

"It's not a lot of property that is ours, but the city is proposing to build a sidewalk with grant funds down Fourth St. and Myrtle Ave.," Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle told the board as she recommended approval.

Construction of the sidewalks is being funded through a federal Safe Routes to School Grant, which provided $225,000 for construction and $25,000 for safety education. The Myrtle Ave. portion will be on the north side of the road, with a gutter, curb, grass section and five foot sidewalk. The ground would then slope to connect with the existing ground level of each property. The sidewalk would begin at Fourth St. and end at Brookside Dr., just past Jacob's Crossing apartment complex. The project would also include installation of a storm sewer. The Fourth St. sidewalk would extend to the area of Roberts Dr.

Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, moved to approve, supported by 4th District Representative Josh Stone. The motion was unanimously approved.

The board also approved setting the tuition rate for out-of-county students attending Cumberland County Schools at zero.

VanWinkle reported there were 35 students attending Cumberland County schools from out of county. Of that, 25 students were children of Cumberland County School employees. She was not aware of any students from Cumberland County attending school in other counties. Crab Orchard Elementary, Homestead Elementary and Phoenix School are the only schools without out-of-county students.

The maximum amount Cumberland County could charge out-of-county students is set by taking the county's contribution to school funding and dividing it by the average daily attendance the year before. That would make the maximum amount $2,343 per pupil.

Stone moved to set the tuition rate at zero, supported by Sandy Brewer, 3rd District representative.

Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, said he'd had negative comments last year after the tuition rate was set at zero regarding, "letting them get a free ride." Schlafer said, "I'm not sure everyone understands the full scope of our funding."

Janeway said, "It's not costing us anything. We get the money from the state. It may be a year late, but it all comes out. The school system should not be in the business of making money on education."

VanWinkle explained space must be available in a school to accommodate an out-of-county student.

"If there is not space available, they'll have to go back," she said. "I do my best to control that."

Janeway said, "I take it as an honor that they would want to bring their children here."

He added the school system pays its teachers less than surrounding counties and he did not want to add additional expenses to a teacher already driving to work in Cumberland County.

The motion to set the tuition at zero was unanimously approved.

The board also voted to extend its contract with Earl Patton, attorney, for one year, ending in June 2014.

"With what we have ahead of us, the budget and hiring the director, I thought this was something we could take care of now. With the pending litigations that are ongoing right now, I felt it would be something we could do for the new director to continue the legal counsel we have," said Brewer.

Her motion was supported by Schlafer. Patton said he would accept the contract extension.

The motion passed with Tollett and Blalock voting no.

Patton also advised the board a letter had been received from the Freedom From Religion Foundation in regard to the board's action in January to approve posting of the Ten Commandments in schools along with other historic documents.

"You're not flying under any radars in this situation," Patton said, and he reiterated his advice that the posting of the Ten Commandments was not something the board should do due to the financial risks associated with the action and encouraged the board to take another look at the issue.

The school system had no findings by state auditors in the county's annual financial report. There was a finding noted in the county finance office regarding journal entries for insurance expenditures.

VanWinkle explained to the Chronicle this past year was the first insurance premiums were paid using a computer software program. In the past the work had been done by hand. However, there was a problem with the software that debits were accounted for twice, when only one payment was made.

"We were still tracking it in July and August, and too much money was coming out," VanWinkle said. "They've gone back to doing it by hand this year and it's working just fine."

Brewer questioned if the school system reconciled the payments by employee, as employee benefits are paid from several lines in the school budget.

"They had set our insurance draw up with a computer and the computer was taking more money out of the line items than the bill was," VanWinkle told the board. "The bill was paid correctly. We knew how much we were paying, but the money was going too fast."

VanWinkle explained to the Chronicle money was in the accounts, but it was not being accurately reflected due to the computer program debiting accounts twice.

"The money was there. It just wasn't showing on paper," she said.

Brewer asked about vision insurance, which is paid through a payroll deduction by employees electing that coverage. Business manager Cindy Randol said she had not seen the bill for vision insurance as that was not part of the school budget.

"It worries me that we've got payroll deductions, we've got a bill every month, but no way of knowing if we're paying enough to meet the bill," Brewer said. "They should tell us, the board. If that bill is $5,000 a month, there better be $5,000 of deductions out of a payroll line. If they don't they're taking the money somewhere and we'll be the ones responsible."