The Bedford County Board of Education must find a way to cut $438,000 from its budget for the upcoming school year after a split vote by the Bedford County Commission on Thursday night.
The commission upheld the tax allocation rate passed at its June 12 meeting. That allocation gives the school system 96 cents, six cents less than the original allocation of $1.02.
The county finance committee had recommended an allocation of the $2.27 property tax rate in a May 22 meeting. In part, the allocation provided $1.02 of the tax rate to education, and contributed 10 cents to debt service.
At its June 12 meeting, the commission approved what they thought was the finance committee's recommendation.
However, after the vote, some commissioners realized that they had actually voted for a measure that would decrease the school budget by six cents, to 96 cents, and increase the debt service portion to 16 cents.
"... And I've been kicking myself every day since," said commissioner Linda Yockey during Thursday night's meeting.
Bobby Fox made a motion to rescind the June 12 vote during Thursday night's special called meeting. "I just thought last time we were passing the budget like it came from finance ... I brought some glasses so I can see what is going on now."
"If you vote for this motion, presented by Mr. Fox, you vote for an automatic tax increase next year, to the tune of about $438,000," said Commissioner J. D. "Bo" Wilson.
"I apologize to you people, if you thought that I was trying to pull ... [one] on you, I wasn't. I've been on the commission a little bit longer than some of you."
"I disagree that it's an automatic tax increase," said Yockey, who is also a local educator.
"I abhor and despise why we are at this point tonight, having to do what we are doing," she said, admonishing the school board -- as well as the commission itself -- to "get their act together."
She suggested the school board make sure their "house is in order. There is a message being sent. This vindictiveness and getting back at departments, getting back at people ... that's got to stop within our commission.
"Make sure that the school board and the county commission are working together for nothing more than the good of Bedford County students," said Yockey to applause from the gallery.
While Wilson agreed with Yockey's sentiment, he referred to the relationship the commission had enjoyed with retired school superintendent Ed Gray.
"Mr. Gray always tried to work with us. We didn't have any problems until lately," said Wilson, recounting a call to Dr. Ray Butrum, current superintendent, "I called Mr. Butrum, and he said, 'If you want to talk to me, you come to my office.' Well, when you draw a line in the sand with me, partner, it's there. I ain't backing up for anybody," he asserted.
Voting "yes" to a motion that would return the school's share of the tax rate to $1.02 were commissioners Don Gallagher, Fox, Jimmy Patterson, Jimmy Woodson, Yockey, Tony Barrett and Phillip "Biff" Farrar.
Voting "no" were commissioners Tony Smith, Janice Brothers, Wilson, Joe Tillett, Jeff Yoes, John Brown, Mark Thomas and new commissioner Ralph Edwards, who is also an employee of the school system.
Commissioner Ed Castleman passed on the vote. Commissioners Denise Graham and Billy King, Jr. were not present for the meeting.
The vote will mean the Bedford County School Board must cut the system's operating budget by $438,000 for the upcoming year and submit it again for approval by the finance committee, which must approve it before submitting the budget to the full commission.
School board chairman Barry Cooper is committed to comply with the commission's directive. "It will be our job to come up with a budget that will adhere to the commission's guidance regarding the school's finances for next year," Cooper said this morning.
Cooper had indicated a desire to address the commission Thursday night, but a vote is required to be recognized during the meeting, and that vote failed.
The schools budget must also pass state guidelines, and if the budget does not meet the state's test for maintenance of effort, it may be rejected.
The commission additionally voted to allow the school system to continue to operate under the current budget guidelines, ensuring a continuance of effort until a revised school budget may be approved.