Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

June 24, 2014

BOE cuts budget request from county by $566K

CROSSVILLE — The Cumberland County Board of Education approved a reduction and change in its funding request from the Cumberland County Commission, but the approval did not specify where the cuts in the budget would come from.

The BOE met in a special session Thursday evening to discuss and review its 2014-'15 budget again after the county's budget committee approved a funding figure of $16,800,769 for the school system.

The BOE was originally requesting a funding figure of $17,036,082 from the county. The Basic Education Program (BEP) state-required funding match from the county is $16,744,000.

Not all BOE members supported the budget cut.

"I'm not going to vote for a generic budget where we don't know what's going to be cut," Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, said.

Jim Blalock, 8th District representative, also voted against cutting the budget without knowing where the cuts would come from.

At the beginning of the special-called meeting, Director of Schools Donald Andrews and Bob Scarbrough, chief financial officer, presented a possible reduced budget, cutting more than $500,000.

Listed as proposed cuts were eliminating 4.5 new RTI teaching positions at $220,000, eliminating salary increase and using the state's salary equity money for compensation at $150,000, eliminating new social studies textbook purchase for grades K-2 at $87,155 and changing the technology plan to a school cycle plan of replacing computers in only three schools per year for a reduction of $109,042.

The total reduction is $566,197.

Scarbrough explained the possible cuts were for discussion purposes for possible savings on the budget.

"If you did all three, it could leave a shortfall of $225,828 ... that would leave a $562,597 total increase over 2013-'14 (last fiscal year's budget) and that would be our request to the county," Scarbrough said.

Janeway said he didn't feel the county was figuring enough revenue growth for the school system.

Janeway said, "Where do figures come from? We did two and three averages. These numbers are half."

Scarbrough said, "The two-cent transfer (last year) from the sanitation department and the (property tax growth) report from the equalization board."

Janeway said, "They're saying sales tax is only going to increase one percent. There's new businesses, car dealers, and more opening than closing. I know the economy is not setting the woods on fire, but if you drive down 127 and see all the new businesses building, you can see there's going to be growth."

Charles Tollett, 1st District representative and BOE chairman, said, "It makes me smile to see the evidence of growth. The county has the option to project an increase in revenue. They call in experts to help to project that figure. Although I don't agree with it, it is their call."

Scarbrough said, "They are conservative, but would rather be conservative than not meet their projections."

Janeway said he felt the BOE should adjust the projected revenue figures higher and negotiate those figures back up to a 2.5 percent growth rate.

"We have to consider if that's a negotiable item with them," Tollett said.

Josh Stone, 4th District representative, said, "We won't get them to change their numbers. If we change ours, we have to bite the bullet."

"They're not giving us more. For six years they've said, bear with us and have not given us a penny more," Janeway said.

Tollett said, "What is it that makes you think that the school board has authority to set the revenue? If we take a projection over there of two percent and they OK it, they own it. (They have to fund it.) I believe that responsibility belongs to them to set the revenue and not us."

Janeway also pointed out the $130,000 revenue from the mixed drink tax was being counted as revenue by the county, but it's being given to the school system from the city of Crossville.

"They are including that at this point, but I believe they might consider that change," Stone said.

"It's not part of the maintenance of effort because because it came from the city. It is encouraging, though, to think they are considering a change," Tollett said.

Regarding the possible cuts, Blalock said, "We've had several discussions on RTI teachers. If we cut those out we take away from the kids. We fought so hard over textbooks and now we're going to cut this out?"

Andrews said, "Regarding textbooks, we want them in every child's hand. If we have to make deductions, though, this is best option to cut. K-2 has more consumable materials. If we had to cut, it would be best here. Realistically, we don't want to cut any."

Vivian Hutson, 6th District representative, said, "We'll have to come up with another way to have some one else cover those RTI's."

Rebecca Wood, assistant director of curriculum, instruction and accountability, said, "It's by law we have to do the program. With the additional teachers, we felt a need to have hands on deck to provide those services and interventions."

Stone asked about RTI and CTE positions being combined.

"Has that been addressed?" Stone asked.

Andrews said it had, but they had not gotten the opinion of the CTE supervisor.

Wood said the board needed to make a decision on combining or going back to CTE, the way it is now.

"We have additional demands for smaller groups and mandates from state. That's what started the idea in beginning," Wood said.

Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, who was not at the meeting, but participated electronically via telephone, said, "It would be a mistake to eliminate the RTI positions."

He also said he didn't favor cutting the K-2 textbook purchase and suggested the board revisit that subject and consider classroom sets, rather than individual licenses.

Wood said it would save $215,000, but she agreed with Stone, who said, if at all possible, they want each child to have a book in hand that they can take home and have access to online resources.

Schlafer said the online resources can still be used during that class time as part of classroom instructional time.

"I'm not saying it's the best, but we work through it to work around it and its a huge savings," Schlafer said.

"None of these cuts are pleasant and some are painful. What will do the most damage? What are we most able to adjust to?" Tollett said. "It's getting close to decision time.

Blalock made a motion to take the RTI money and plug it back in, as well as the textbooks, for a total of $869,000 and to present that request to the county commission.

Stone said he didn't think it was a big enough decrease in budget.

Sandy Brewer, 3rd District representative, said she agreed with Stone. "I don't want to cut anything, but we're going to have to do something so they can see we are trying as hard as we can to cut this budget," Brewer said.

Blalock's motion failed in a 4-3 vote.

Voting in favor of Blalock's motion were Janeway, Hutson and Blalock.    Voting against it were Tollett, Brewer, Stone and Schlafer.

Andrews said he felt comfortable going in to discuss the budget with the county.

"If you can't decide tonight, that's alright. As long as we get a bottom line number," Andrews said.

Brewer asked, "What if we approve the figures, but look at suggestions and maybe cut something somewhere else and consider other cuts? Not necessarily those options, but those figures. It will show the county we are working hard to cut this budget."

Stone said, "Some of those cuts are painful ... but consider, the staff has spent hours and hours reviewing this. They wouldn't recommend it if they felt it was going to harm students."

Brewer made a motion to approve the figure of getting the required, increased BEP match from the county at $150,000, the additional $56,769 the county budget committee had approved, $130,000 mixed drink tax and an additional $225,828 from the county, for a total of $562,597 above last year's funding from the county and taking no action on where the cuts would come from, just approving the figures.

Voting in favor were Brewer, Stone, Tollett, Hutson and Shlafer.

Voting no were Janeway and Blalock.

Brewer's motion passed in a 5-2 vote.

The adjusted expenditures in the fiscal year 2014-'15 BOE budget would be $50,858,533, expected revenues of $47,897,344, leaving a balance of $2,961,189. The BOE would use $2,735,361 from its fund balance, leaving a shortfall of $225,828.

The BOE and county budget committee were scheduled to meet again Monday evening for further budget talks.

Gordon Davis, 5th District representative, and David Bowman, 7th District representative, did not attend the meeting.

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