Revenues languish as city schools gauge capital projects

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   As snow peppered down on Elizabethton Friday morning, East Side Elementary Principal Randy Lacy stood outside the school looking in at cracks and holes in windows of classrooms.
   "There are eight in one room," said Lacy. "You can't see them all inside because the blinds hang down."
   The Elizabethon City School system is expected submit its 2003-2004 budget to the city finance department in less than two weeks. School board members have heard capital and expense project requests from all five city schools and system administration personnel at two workshops held in the past four weeks.
   Thus far, roughly $800,000 in requests have been submitted to school system administrators. However, the system's director of finance, Cynthia Roberts, told school administrators the system expects a revenue increase of around $400,000 for the next fiscal year.
   Lacy requested the replacement or repair of 62 cracked or partially damaged windows at East Side. He said the new heating system installed at the school three years ago made little difference if broken windows were sapping heat and dollars.
   "There is no need to have new heating units if we have breaks in all the windows," he said.
   The window repairs are estimated to cost $1,500. Replacing carpet throughout the building with tile flooring is a more expensive project Lacy said he had hope of funding this year.
   "I've talked to our custodial staff and they said they'd much rather have tile because it is easier to keep clean," said Lacy who became principal in November after Rondald Taylor was named assistant director of schools. "Everyone you talk to says carpet is not good for schools because of students' allergies and other factors."
   The system has used approximately $3 million in county money earmarked for capital projects since 1999. The system has spent roughly $2.4 million of that figure on several capital projects throughout the system.
   A major project covered under those funds for the coming fiscal year is the construction of a 5,200 square-foot media center at T.A. Dugger Junior High School.
   T.A. Dugger Principal Regina Cates said the media center -- estimated to cost between $400,000 to $500,000 -- will allow students audio and visual works to check out and include two computer labs.
   The existing media center located on the second floor of the school will likely be used for additional classroom space.
   "It is really cramped for space," said Cates. "We hope to turn that area into two classrooms."
   Previously the high school, the T.A. Dugger building was constructed in 1940. Capital revenues funded construction of the school's band room as well as upgrades to the building's windows and bathroom facilities two years ago.
   "Maintenance is not running as high as they forecasted, so they will try to get those pieces together for us this year," said Cates, who is completing her first year as principal at the school.
   Elizabethton High School had a low count of capital project requests this year, according to Principal Edwin Alexander.
   The system will ask the school board to approve installation of new "chiller" units in the high school's HVAC system at the upcoming school board meeting on Feb. 20. The cost of the units is $300,000.
   Alexander said given the high school's architectural design, the need for an effective heating and cooling system was a must.
   "If you don't have windows to ventilate the place, you have to rely on heating and cooling," he said.
   The school board will also consider approving an estimated $160,000 upgrade of ventilators at Harold McCormick.
   Principal John Hutchins of Harold McCormick requested a canopy constructed over the walkway between the old gymnasium and new gym. West Side Elementary Principal Rick Wilson submitted a request for the replacement of all 148 school lockers with an estimated cost of $11,988.
   Beyond bricks and mortar, all three elementary schools also requested establishing a "reading specialist" to screen reading deficiencies in students. A new personnel position was requested by East Side and Harold McCormick. Principal Rick Wilson of West Side said an existing school employee could fill that specialist position and a new position would not have to be created.
   The reading specialist would be to support classroom instruction and provide evaluation of reading skills and potential problems.
   Cates also requested a full-time library assistant to maintain the school's accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) at a projected annual pay scale of $14,500. SACS requires schools with enrollments over 500 students to have a library assistant to maintain accreditation. T.A. Dugger has an enrollment of approximately 532 students.
   "That order will go into effect for T.A. Dugger next school year, said Cates. "We will know if we'll have that by July 1, or before that."
   The state's Basic Education Plan required the General Assembly to fund K-12 education. However, the state was mired in a debate over the tax structure during the last four years of the Don Sundquist administration.
   Lacy said new Governor Phil Bredesen faced essentially the same problem of stretching revenues for education needs that his predecessor and the Legislature faced last year. He also felt the state needed to come up with some type of tax structure to adequately fund the state's departments.
   "I don't know how they are going to fix it," Cates said, "but they have to fund education."