County school board makes financial decisions

By Megan Harrell
Star Staff

The Carter County School Board was finally able to move forward in making some financial decisions Tuesday night. The new found freedom comes as the result of the County Commission's adoption of a budget earlier this week.
   The school board officially approved its 2002-2003 budget which was completed this summer. "We finally have a budget to look at after the County Commission's meeting last night. I think we can feel good about what has happened over there," said Superintendent of County Schools Dallas Williams.
   Budget Director Jerome Kitchens outlined some changes in the school system's budget. The school board agreed to reduce the interest payment the county is making to the school system in exchange for the county reducing the system's payments of debt service. The deal resulted in a net of $151,000 which made it possible to raise teacher's salaries by one-half percent in addition to the one percent raise which was already included in the budget. Paraprofessional workers in the county school system will receive a three percent increase in pay as well.
   The increases in salary are welcomed but are not as substantial as many county teachers had hoped for. "We have to take the steps as we can take the steps, but I would like the teachers to know that the board is with them. The County Commission sees the problem too because they helped to fund these increases," said Board Chairman Richard Winters.
   Williams was appreciative of the County Commissioners who approved the budget. "I would like to thank the County Commission for voting on this budget, especially those commissioners who I know worked hard pushing this budget through," Williams said. "I would like to give a special thanks to all those who have spent long hours working on this budget. I would especially like to thank this board for its patience and understanding. We have finally got something to work with."
   With a new budget in place the county board of education was able to move forward with other financial matters. Board members decided to change its waste collection provider from Waste Management to BFI. Former County Executive Truman Clark had recommended that the school board allow BFI to make a bid for their trash removal.
   Kitchens advised the board to make the change to BFI and enter into a two-year contract with a one-year option of renewal. "Without having some reason to think that BFI can't handle it and we know that they handle the county's collection, we know that they have a presence here in the county, so we are committed to going with them unless we have some other reason not to," Kitchens said. Kitchens stated that the county school system spent $42,000 on waste removal last year and that BFI's bids came in about $12,000 below Waste Management's figures.
   In further attempts to find funding for county schools the board voted unanimously to enter into an energy performance contract with Johnson Controls. The school board has been working on a way to operate more energy efficiently for over a year and decided on Johnson Controls after a series of workshops. The contract will mean that all Carter County schools, besides LIFT Academy, will be equipped with more efficient lighting and temperature control systems.
   The $3.2 million in costs needed to initiate the energy projects will come at no expense to the school system. The 15-year performance contract calls for a net increase of $1.3 million that will go back into the system after it pays for itself. Johnson Controls guarantees that the county schools will save at least $360,000 each year or it will pay the school board the same amount.
   City of Elizabethton Schools, Mountain States Health Alliance, and Cloudland Elementary are some of Johnson Controls' existing local clients. The Carter County School Board was in contact with these clients prior to voting on a performance contract with Johnson Controls.