Schools budget to include teacher's salary increase

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

The Carter County School Board presented a balanced 2003-2004 budget to the county's finance committee yesterday that includes a six percent ($77,000) local match of $1.3 million so that teachers will receive raises as proposed by the state. The match will be provided in spite of a half million dollar deficit the county faces in the upcoming fiscal year.
   "We have made some very hard, heart-wrenching decisions. In the last two years, we've been cutting our budget. We've cut 15 positions in the last two years and we're looking this year at cutting more positions to balance the budget," Superintendent Dallas Williams told Carter County Finance Committee members during a special budget meeting held Thursday evening.
   Revenue for the proposed budget totals $30,881,700, according to county schools' finance director, Jerome Kitchens, while expenses total $31,386,911. To reach a balanced budget, the school board had to come up with $505,211.
   "It's always hard to cut programs, but it's even harder to cut positions. We have made decisions realizing that the county is having financial challenges and we don't want to add to that. We are hoping that some of our paraprofessionals will be willing to take a voluntary layoff," Williams said.
   In the proposed budget, cuts to programs across the board would still leave the county school system with a $205,000 shortfall for the upcoming year. Program cuts would include a $50,000 decrease from the maintenance budget; $50,000 cut from transportation; $50,000 removed from technology; $50,000 from Special Education, and $100,000 from the Capital Outlay budget.
   "We're looking at cutting possibly four paraprofessional positions and four professional positions," Kitchens told finance committee members. The budget would also include a 1.5 percent cost of living increase for paraprofessionals, a total of $45,000.
   County schools received a $250,000 increase in funds for federal programs this year; however, according to Shirley Ellis, federal programs director, that money was provided to take care of certain state requirements.
   "Five percent must go toward professional development; one percent is for parental involvement, and 20 percent has to be set aside for transportation and supplies. On top of that, we have to fund a salary increase and insurance premiums rose 15 percent," she said.
   Even so, Williams believes some of the money for federal programs can be used in place of the cuts made to programs.
   After Williams presented the proposed budget to the finance committee, some debate ensued concerning whether or not the county is required by law to provide the six percent local match for salary increases and the legitimacy of need for teachers in the county to receive a raise.
   On Thursday afternoon the state legislature passed a budget of $21.5 billion that changes the state's spending priorities and was sent to the governor, according to The Associated Press.
   Funding shifts boosted K-12 education by $111 million plus what Bredesen calls a $26.7 million "down payment" to address a state Supreme Court order to equalize teacher pay among poor and rich school districts.
   In 1993, the Supreme Court of Tennessee ruled, in Tennessee Small School Systems v. McWherter, that the state's education finance system violated the Tennessee constitution's equal protection clause.
   The court rejected the argument that local control provides a "rational basis" for vastly unequal school quality: "even without deciding whether the right to a public education is fundamental, we can find no constitutional basis for the present system, as it has no rational bearing on the educational needs of the districts."
   The county school's budget will be heard by the Carter County Commission at it's scheduled meeting next month.