Carter County School System faces $400,000 deficit

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

On Wednesday morning, members of the Carter County School System Finance Committee met to discuss the budget dilemma the system faces this year - an approximate $400,000 deficit that has local school and government officials scratching their heads and sighing deeply.
   "The school board as a whole will have input into what we do. We will bring up the need to make cuts that would equal $440,000 or so, and of course we will make recommendations at a called board meeting before the end of May. We've already cut back the last two years, so this seems like it's an ongoing process," said Carter County Schools Superintendent Dallas Williams during a telephone interview yesterday afternoon.
   Several items on the budget are contributing to the budget shortfall. At the top of the list is the county's need to match with local funds nearly six percent of $1.3 million the state could be awarding the county to raise teacher salaries to the minimum $37,000 proposed by Gov. Bredesen, assuming the state legislature passes that budget within the next month.
   According to Finance Committee chairman Jack Pearman, a large portion of the deficit is due to $150,000 in Special Education funds the county is lacking and that won't be funded by the federal government. In addition to that, the county is considering adding another Special Education position.
   County schools also face a 15 percent increase in medical insurance premiums, and committee members would like to give paraprofessionals a one to two percent raise. The system is still paying for part of the raise the state gave employees last year.
   "Last year, the state gave a two percent raise for half the year, and we funded our portion of that. This year, that two percent will go for the full year, so we've got to come up with our part (almost 15 percent) for half of the raise," said Jerome Kitchens, county schools' budget director.
   For the past three years, the Average Daily Membership (ADM) for the county school system has been down by 300 to 400 students, lowering the amount of funding provided by the state, according to Pearman.
   What all of this means for county schools has yet to be finalized; however, Pearman said the school board will more than likely need to consider cutting positions in order to balance the budget.
   "If we cut certified personnel that would be about 11 or 12 positions, or teacher's assistants, instructional aides, a certain number to help (balance the budget)," Pearman said.
   Kitchens also indicated that cutting salaried positions may be necessary.
   "Times are tough, and there's been cutbacks, and we're trying to live within our budget ... Whenever you have 80 percent of your budget in salaries, and you have to make cuts, it's hard to get around (cutting salaried employees)," Kitchen's said.
   Finance Committee members include Jack Pearman, chairman (retired); school board members Richard Winters and Ted Maxwell; Pat Hicks, assistant superintendent; Jason Cody, Carter County finance director, and Jerome Kitchens, Carter County Schools budget director.
   The Carter County School Board will hold its next meeting May 1st.