School board cuts 9 positions

Six-figure insurance premium jump leaves board seeing red

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Carter County School Board voted Tuesday to abolish personnel positions for the second consecutive year after being walloped with a massive increase in insurance premiums for employees.
   "Gentlemen, we've cut 14 positions from this school system in the last two years," Superintendent Dallas Williams told the board, which met in session Tuesday. "These people have been important to our children, and those children are going to suffer as a result of this."
   The school board voted unanimously to cut seven mentor teachers' positions and two para-professional staff jobs for the 2002-2003 school year. The cuts follow the elimination of five staff positions last year.
   The county system's budget had $29.7 million in available funds including local, state and federal dollars, Williams told the board at Tuesday's meeting.
   Williams said insurance premiums for system personnel had risen upwards of $670,000 from last year.
   "With the revenues we received from the state, we had no way to cover that amount," he said.
   Those funds created a $511,000 deficit for the system's 2002-2003 budget projections of $30.2 million.
   "This was not done without much soul-searching," said Richard Winters, board chairman. "It was with great sadness we were forced to take this action.
   "We really don't have any other option."
   Williams said the school system would not be aware of how the teacher reductions would affect student-teacher ratios in the classrooms until attendance numbers began coming in later this month.
   County school students return to class for the first full day of school on Friday.
   He added the role of the "mentor teacher" entailed more than classroom instruction.
   "Mentor teachers provided a lot of help to the principals with evaluation and planning," said Williams. "They provided guidance to our younger teachers. Our principals are going to lose a lot of assistance because they provided them so much help."
   The board's decision also kept items cut from last year's budget out of the 2002-2003 budget. Those cuts included $100,000 in capital expenditures, and $5,000 in maintenance and custodial services.
   The board voted last year to cut 50 percent of school board allocations -- roughly $67,000 -- to school bands, science programs, libraries and accreditation in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
   Those budget cuts would not be replaced for the new fiscal year, said Williams.
   "Those were painful cuts as well because, once again, they impact the students' welfare," he said. "It has been a very negative effect on our budget because we need those things to educate our children."
   The board also passed a motion by Jack Pearman authorizing Williams request a 1 percent pay raise for county teachers and a 3 percent pay increase for para-professional personnel from the county commission.
   The request would be funded through the county and be in addition to a 2 percent teachers' raise funded by the state.
   According to the State of Tennessee School System Report Card for 2001, Carter County funds only 24.4 percent of the county schools' overall budget. The average county in Tennessee funds 43.5 percent of local education, according to the report card.
   According to the state report, the average teacher's salary for the Carter County School System is $31,546, while the state average is $37,431 per year. Nationally, the average salary for teachers is $42,436.
   Board member Steve Chambers said newly elected county commissioners who ran on a platform of bettering the county's education system should be ready to step up to the plate on those issues.
   "We had people run that said education was at the top of their list," said Chambers. "Now, it's time to back what was said."