County schools budget is eyed
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG  Banner Staff Writer
Apr 11, 2014 | 1366 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print

The Bradley County Board of Education has begun discussing the school system’s budget for the 2014-15 school year as the deadline to turn in budgetary requests for the Bradley County school system looms.

Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel said he and others within the school system will begin “a very extensive process” with the budget next month, but are beginning to look at what kind of funding the local system can expect from the state.

He said preliminary estimates of the Basic Education Program are “about level” with no major budget cuts or additions.

However, McDaniel expressed concern over Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget, which is making its way through the General Assembly. Tennessee’s current proposed budget for the next fiscal year does not include the money to fund 2 percent raises for teachers, which the governor had previously promised.

“That does affect how we plan for our budget,” McDaniel said. “We’re also waiting on the local projections and how our local property tax would be.” 

He said he plans to submit a balanced budget to the Bradley County Commission, but note which needs the school system would like to fund if more money can be found.

McDaniel said the priorities for the next school system budget will be staffing — including salaries, instructional support, technology support, building maintenance, transportation and service contracts like ones for school janitorial work.

In addition to the state funding, he said federal funding could also be a concern. A sequester that has impacted the federal education budget has the potential to impact the local general purpose budget, he said. The biggest area of impact would be funding for special education funding.

“We’re going to have to look at how much of that will have to be absorbed into our general purpose budget.” 

On top of regular special education programs, he added the system also needs to buy a new bus with a wheelchair ramp to replace an old one.

Other things that could be considered in the local budget as the amount of funding allows are having more electronic devices in classrooms, adding to “safe school plan” measures and taking care of needs like a proposed renovation project at Lake Forest Middle School and needed roof repairs at Ocoee Middle School.

If possible, the budget would also address various capital outlay projects.

“We always try to do something for every school,” McDaniel said.

He then stressed there would likely not be enough money to fund every project.

Two school board members then made suggestions for items they would like to be addressed in the budget.

Chris Turner proposed subscribing to an eMeeting service with the Tennessee School Boards Association that would create an online system for managing school board meeting materials so the members could “go paperless.” The board could also share the link to the site with meeting attendees so they can access all the documents the board members have in front of them. It would cost $2,000 up front, and require a $1,500 annual maintenance fee

“As a hearing-impaired individual,” Turner said he also wanted there to be microphones at the school board meetings so the audience could more easily hear what is happening.

Board member Nicholas Lillios then proposed a “program of savings for large capital outlays” that he said would account for a lack of funding for capital projects on the state and local levels.

He said there is already a need for a new middle school and new elementary schools, but receiving funding is an uncertain thing.

“I believe it’s time to start making a sacrifice,” Lillios said.

He proposed the school system set aside $2 million in savings for upcoming projects on the upcoming budget and set aside $3 million each year after that. He acknowledged it would require cutting certain programs, but said it would ensure more capital projects get done.

McDaniel said the Bradley County school system is already “one of the lower-funded systems in Tennessee,” and the state budget already addresses raises for teachers.

He said the school board “would have to be more specific” about where cuts could be made because he did not see how many cuts could be made without hurting education.

“There aren’t a lot of places to cut,” McDaniel said. “There’s not a lot of fat in our budget. When you start cutting our budget, you’re really cutting bone and muscle.” 

Lillios reiterated he did not want to have to depend on the local government for funding all of the necessary projects; he wanted the school system to “be self-reliant.” 

Turner said Lillios’ proposal was “very aggressive,” but he also said it was “responsible.” He would like to see some kind of savings allocated in the budget — but maybe $500,000 or $1 million instead of the $2 or $3 million.

The school board will hold a work session later this month to further discuss the budget and other issues before it creates a final draft of the budget to be voted on at a meeting in May. The work session will take place on Wednesday, April 29, at 5 p.m. in the county school system’s central office.