Director details budget

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

During yet another tight budget year, the Carter County School System had to cut $500,000 to achieve balanced books for the coming academic year. During an interview Wednesday, county schools finance director, Jerome Kitchens, summarized how those cuts will impact the system.
   The school system cut funds from six categories as follows: $100,000 from the Capital Outlay budget; $50,000 from maintenance; $50,000 from transportation; $50,000 from technology, and $50,000 from Special Education. The school system also has cut $205,000 from personnel.
   "It's a tight year, but we've always said we're gonna' have school and provide the very best service we can with whatever resources we have. Yes, I think we could do better if we had more money, but we're still going to do the very best we can," Kitchens said.
   Pat HIcks, assistant director of county schools, recently presented Kitchens with some preliminary ideas concerning personnel cuts. "We've had some voluntary layoffs in paraprofessionals," Kitchens said. However, Kitchens did not indicate total layoffs in terms of dollars.
   Major purchases for construction and repair make up the Captial Outlay budget, and Kitchens said the system will spend less in that area, as well as maintenance.
   "We're not going to cut required maintenance, and there's not going to be anything that creates unsafe conditions, but we'll be very discretionary on what we spend and try to reduce the amount," he said.
   County schools officials considered purchasing a new bus; however, budget problems eliminated that option. "We're going to look into if it's possible to acquire buses through leases with less cost than it would be to purchase them outright. Right now, with the given interest rate, that's not too far off to consider," Kitchens said.
   A partnership the system has with the Niswonger Foundation, a Greeneville-based business cooperative that works to provide school systems with better technology, has provided for the installation of portable laptop computer labs in all four county high schools. This year, the labs will be installed at Unaka and Hampton High Schools.
   "We'll probably not update as many computers. We have so many computers that, just keeping them going is a cost in and of itself," Kitchens said.
   Kitchens said he and other school officials always try to keep extra funds on hand for high cost Special Education students who need additional assistance. "What we've done is, instead of putting that money in on the front end in case they do come, we've cut it, and if we do have those kids then we'll have to pull from our emergency fund balance," he said.
   A state requirement demands that a county school system set aside three percent of its operational budget as an emergency fund. Kitchens said the system currently has in excess of $1 million in its coffers for emergencies.
   Final decisions involving cuts in personnel, Kitchens said, will be made by Superintendent Dallas Williams.
   "It's just one of those things where, when you've got less money, you cut back a nickel here and a dime there. For us, it's a dollar here and a hundred dollars there. If we didn't think that we couldn't have a solid school year, we would tell people," he said.