The saga continues.
With cuts made, including changes to medical insurance, the deficit of the 2007-'08 Cumberland County school budget dropped from $5.9 million to just less than $5.8 million, trimming it by almost $140,000.
At the Aug. 29 special-called meeting, the Board of Education voted to approve the budget with the changes made in recent weeks and during the work session beforehand. Eighth District representative Orville Hale made the motion to approve, and 5th District representative Gordon Davis seconded the motion.
"Yes, I do get emotional about it," said Aarona VanWinkle, director of schools. "Because I see faces and I see people when we're dealing with education."
"I'd like to reiterate for the media that the board has basically stated that for the seven years we've been on it, we don't care what [the county commission] has to do to do it, they're the funding authority," said Hale. "They've got to do it. We're not here asking for a tax raise, we're not asking for wheel taxes. We're not asking for anything. We're asking for the money to run the school system. How they get it, we don't care. What they're trying to do is get us to say, 'We want a wheel tax' and then blame it on us. We're not doing that. We're just asking for the amount of money necessary to run our schools."
"[VanWinkle] has said this has been going on for a long time, and I have to agree," said 9th District representative Dan Schlafer. "And speaking in the frame of reference just from when I've been on the board, there have been many years, several years, when we've not even requested a tax increase because of the intimidation factor, and we knew they wouldn't give it to us. I can recall four years, we begged for a nickel and didn't get it. And since that time, it's been 'We'll draw down fund balance to the bare minimum, we'll cut this, we'll cut that' and we can't as a board do that any longer. What needs to happen on both sides is a systematic plan and incremental increase every year, a 2- or 5-cent increase every year."
Second District representative Robert Safdie added, "I recall that very statement being brought up at one of the last two budget committee [meetings], and I want to tell you that the response by that budget committee, or individuals on that budget committee, was, 'Well, that's water under the bridge.' But let me be here to tell you right now, that bridge leads to a dam, and that dam is overflowing right now, and had they taken care of that water, we wouldn't be in this mess right now."
The medical insurance line item did change on account of an 11-percent increase along with plan changes, calculations including new personnel, and figuring how many families and singles the insurance would cover.
"I want to cut to the chase because I know you've done all the work, and I've looked at these reports before," said Safdie. "The statement at the budget committee meeting was… there was a 17-percent difference, there was a $400,000 error. I have gotten at least a half-dozen phone calls saying how we could be so irresponsible to make a $400,000 error. What was the exact amount of the error we found there?"
"About $36,000," said VanWinkle. "But that's where we counting some family policies twice. We were paying for them out of one budget and paying for them out of another budget. But it's not there."
During the work session, VanWinkle showed numbers pertaining to how much of the budget was funded by local moneys. In 1991-'92, the county funded at 38.6 percent. When the BEP was implemented in 1992-'93, county funding went down to 33.8 percent. In 2005-'06, with the state average at 43 percent, the county funded the school system at 29 percent. For the 2006-'07 school year, the county dropped to 28 percent.
VanWinkle explained the method by which the state calculates funding to the schools by figuring square footage. The director showed where the BEP 2.0 left the school in terms of funding for transportation, utilities, and operation and maintence of plant.
"We have $884,254.36 left for all operation and maintenance," said VanWinkle. "We're [$2,597,000] over the BEP formula from our budget, and I honestly feel we have a bare bones budget in maintenance and operations. I like to point out something to you — remember the $884,000 that was the total left over for operation and maintenance. Well, folks, our total utilities is $1,952,000. I only have $884,000 left to pay that with. The utilities is more than double that. We're already $1,068,121 dollars in the hole before we buy our first roll of toilet paper."
"If I'm not mistaken, during that last budget meeting with the county commission, the county budget committee asked, 'Why are our expenses higher than what BEP allows?' and you're addressing this right now, how the BEP only provides us in some cases as little as 50 percent of the actual need of the school system," said Robert Safdie, 2nd District representative.
"The commissioner was correct when he said the state does not fund education adequately," said VanWinkle. "And no, they don't, and the state is very excited... They've risen to 45th out of 50 states. And they're very excited, with the new lottery money they have put into education, we have risen to 45th on what we spend per pupil. But Cumberland County still ranks 122nd out of 137 school systems. Still, we're close to the bottom and Tennessee is close to the bottom. So, Tennesee does not fund education adequately. That is a correct statement, but Cumberland County doesn't do any better of a job. We got to have more than just the basics."
According to VanWinkle, the state allots the county $3.9 million for capital outlay. Since that amount isn't used toward capital outlay, the school system must use it toward transporation and maintenance departments, she said.
"This county ranks 20th in sales tax revenue coming in, they rank 23rd in property tax assessment, out of 95 counties. We rank 34th in per capita income out of 95 counties, so we have got to have the money from the county if we're going to have a quality education program. We can't offer the remedial classes that we need to offer, we can't offer the advanced classes and dual credits, and we can't offer the extra vocational teachers that we want to offer. We can't do that unless we come up with this money. And that capital outlay money at $3.9 million is sucked right up," said Van Winkle.
VanWinkle went over statistics showing a 108 percent increase from $20.1 million in 1994-'95 to $41.9 million in 2006-'07. She pointed out that it in the letter to the editor written by County Mayor Brock Hill it wasn't listed that the county general fund increased from $7 million to $22.7 million, a 213 percent increase.
"Are you referring to that letter that Brock Hill wrote in response to Calvin Kemmer's request for the need of education in which the mayor asked the question, 'Why did the school's budget double?' and you're telling me now that the county's budget has more than doubled?" asked Safdie. "Well, that seems to me rather a biased presentation and a misleading statement by our county executive. It was a biased statement in terms of omission."
"Another valid fact that needs to be brought up from 1994-'95 and 2006-'07, the 2006-'07 period includes three brand new schools, which we had done mainly because the county commission and the board of education had set on the laurels for 20 years in this county and had done nothing to fund it. A 108 percent [increase] — yeah — but really that's over a course of 20 years what we needed to do, so people need to realize that," said Hale.
To end the work session, the BOE made changes to capital outlay in light of building improvements, taking $40,000 from $935,000 for the line item and putting into a new line item for other salaries to pay personnel assigned to such projects. This change does not alter the bottom line amount for capital outlay.
The BOE is scheduled to convene on Monday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m. for its monthly meeting. The meeting will be preceded by a policy committee at 4 p.m. and a work session concerning the director's evalution at 5 p.m.
Members of the BOE will travel to Van Buren County High School in Spencer, TN, on Sept. 6 to attend the Tennessee School Board Association fall district meeting.
The saga continues.