County finance committee approves schools' budget

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

During a second night of deliberations, the Carter County Finance Committee approved the county school system's proposed 2003-2004 budget, which will include a $1.3 million equity raise for teachers as required by the state Supreme Court.
   "I would recommend, though we took a vote last night, we didn't have a majority either way, that we vote again tonight -- or, we can take it before the full Commission," said Jason Cody, county finance director.
   In a workshop held Monday night, 4 commissioners approved the schools' budget, 3 voted against it, and 1 commissioner passed. Commissioners Bill Armstrong, Charlie Bayless, Jeff Treadway, and Wayne Holtsclaw voted for the budget; Tom "Yogi" Bowers, John Lewis, and Joe Woods voted against it, and Doug Buckles (sitting in for Lawrence Hodge) passed.
   Cody explained the budget must be either approved or denied and that line item changes were not allowed without providing some solution for adjusting the amount. Prior to the schools' budget, the committee approved the county's 2003-2004 General Fund budget, which includes a set tax rate of $2.22 per $100 of assessed value.
   "I do want to point out, and it's very important, that they (county schools) aren't asking for any additional money. The budget that is presented is balanced. They are funding the $77,000 local match without asking for additional money; they're doing it through their own current operations. They have taken some cuts," Cody told the committee.
   "Show me where that's at, sir. Show me where those cuts are," Tom "Yogi" Bowers countered.
   County Schools Superintendent, Dallas Williams, reiterated to the committee $300,000 of cuts made to the proposed budget, which includes: $100,000 cut from the Capital Outlay budget; $50,000 from the Maintenance budget; $50,000 cut from Transportation; $50,000 out of Technology, and $50,000 from Special Education.
   Revenue for the proposed budget totals $30,881,700, according to numbers provided by 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.
   "We decided in our budget meetings that we would also cut $205,000 in personnel. Now, we don't know who, at this point in time, exactly who, or where that's going to be. We're currently waiting. As you know, at the end of the year people do retire, and we're hoping we won't have to send people home," Williams said.
   Bowers resurrected a debate with Williams concerning the definition of "layoff" as opposed to positions that are "absorbed into the system" (or eliminated).
   The school system's budget includes a $77,000 local match, or six percent of $1.3 million the state is providing the system to raise teacher's salaries.
   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 state legislature passed last month a budget of $21.5 billion that changes the states spending priorities. Funding shifts increased K-12 education by $111 million plus what Bredesen calls a $26.7 million "down payment" to address the Small Schools Lawsuit.
   Commissioner Jeff Treadway motioned to approve the county schools' budget, and Lawrence Hodges seconded. Joe Woods and Tom Bowers were the only finance committee members who voted "no".
   The schools' budget will be presented to the full Carter County Commission on Monday, June 23, at 7 p.m.