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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

School board irritated over forced budget cuts

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The early morning meeting of the Bedford County Board of Education was intended to be a perfunctory one, giving board members an opportunity to review a printed version of budget revisions which were discussed in a special called meeting Monday evening.

Instead, they used the meeting to express their frustration with budget constraints -- and, in some instances, with one another.

Members, with the exception of Leonard Singleton and Chad Graham, met at the Central Office at 6:30 a.m. Friday to finalize cuts totaling more than $438,000 from the 2012-13 budget as directed by the county commission in June.

Tight budget

"We cannot overspend the budget one dime next year," chairman Barry Cooper said, referring to the cushion in funding the school system has typically carried from year to year.

Although year-end accounts payable and accounts receivable are still being posted by the county's finance department, early indications are that the system will dip into its fund balance to cover the year's expenditures. Those expenditures are expected to be just over $1 million.

A 3 percent fund balance must be maintained by the school system as required by state law.

"That doesn't mean that anyone overspent expenditures. I'm not saying anyone overspent their budget, it's just we didn't collect as much revenue as we spent," county finance director Robert Daniel said.

"We're using the rainy day fund. We're looking at a day of reckoning when that rainy day fund is gone," Cooper said.

"We're this tight and Dr. [Ray] Butrum thinks that we are going to have to hire additional teachers that we don't have spots for in the budget, what's that going to do to us? Where is the money going to come from?" board member Diane Neeley asked.

Deals questioned

Neeley, who said she had been researching expenditures and speaking with state representatives about school issues, raised the issue of three consultant contracts which had recently been signed. The three contracts total $100,000, and Neeley asserted this expense should have been approved by the board.

Saying that in her opinion one of those teachers is not qualified to perform, she asked that the board defer action on the budget, and that the full board meet with legal counsel prior to Tuesday night's regular board meeting.

The qualifications of those teachers -- each retired educators -- was discussed at some length. Among them are former principals and administrators, a certified gifted student teacher, a Paidea instructor and a member of the Tennessee Teacher Hall of Fame.

"These people are all highly qualified," school superintendent Butrum said. "There's a huge paradigm shift in education right now, and we are having to teach teachers how to roll out this observation model, and with core curriculum coming, we have started this year addressing how we are going into that.

Schools must be transitioned to the new models by next school year.

A money issue

"These people are helping our system and will end up directly affecting our students and their scores on the state achievement tests. This is part of our professional development, that's what Title money is intended to be spent for," said Butrum.

Cooper told Neeley, "You've got two things going on, you are objecting to hiring consultants, and you're saying we can't afford it."

"I'm saying that, when we are sitting here with a budget this tight, and we don't have any extra money for additional teachers that we may need, my thinking is that we could use money from some of this grant money to pay for those teachers if we have to," Neeley said.

"I don't have a problem with us [hiring consultants]. The bottom line is if you don't have the money for it, at some point we're going to have to make decisions -- we simply can't afford to do it."

"One of the ways we could, we could stop playing these funding games, and playing technical games, like asking for a legal opinion on a contract. If we can't afford the people, that's one issue, but trying to create some technical game that we can't hire them is quite another," Cooper said.

After some discussion, Neeley made a formal motion which was seconded by Dr. Andrea Anderson. The vote failed with Neeley and Anderson voting yes, and the five other members of the board voting no.

Tough times

Discussion continued with Ron Adcock questioning the wisdom of filling seven open teacher assistant positions until after student population numbers level out in September. Ultimately, no action was taken regarding new hires during the meeting.

"We're going to have to make some hard decisions," Cooper said, adding, "Someone told me they figured this out, we're taking money from kids to pay for fire engines.

"We're getting down to cutting the meat here, cause we've already -- in my opinion -- cut the fat."

Amy Martin reminded the board of the long-term effects the budget discussions are having on the community.

"When our chamber tries to recruit new business, the very first thing industry looks at is our education system. They look at what the county is doing locally for our young children. They want to see how committed this community is to their education," Martin said.

"These industries are not going to come in to our community if we are not committed to education. It's not going to happen. And our community leaders are going to have to recognize that fact.

'Match of wills'

"This has become a match of wills. We've got some people that are peeved ... and they've put it on the back of the children. There is no need for this at all."

Cooper agreed, "Potential industries ... read the newspaper, and say, 'There's a big fight going on and the county commission is cutting schools, and our teacher pay is low.' I'm just saying industry reads all this, and then they go somewhere [else]. We're cutting our own throat by being petty in this county."

"We cannot operate in 2012 with a 1992 financial mindset," Glen Forsee said. "If I expect a certain quality of life, I have to decide if I want to pay for that quality of life."

"We cannot force the county to give us the money it takes to do what we have to do, what we are mandated to do by law," Cooper said. "We have the responsibility, but not the means to carry it out."

A motion to approve the amended budget was made, with five board members voting yes, and Anderson dissenting. Neeley had left due to work obligations.

The revised budget will be submitted to the county finance committee for consideration at their meeting Tuesday afternoon. If approved, it will later receive a vote from the full commission. The school board holds its next regular meeting Tuesday evening at 7.