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UPDATE: School budget amendment denied

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

NOTE: This story has been updated from the print version to include a response from School Superintendent Ray Butrum.


Bedford County Board of Commissioners failed to approve a school budget amendment Tuesday night that school system officials had said was needed to hire new teachers in order to deal with an increase in student population and maintain state-mandated pupil-teacher ratios.

"I am disturbed by the lack of understanding of our county commission and their role in not approving a simple budget amendment, already approved by the full [school] board and the budget and finance committee," said School Supt. Ray Butrum this morning in a text message to the Times-Gazette.

In fact, the Financial Management Committee, of which Butrum is a member, did not recommend the amendment but passed it on to the full county commission without a recommendation.

"This severely interferes with the efficient and effective operation of our school system," said Butrum. "All of our elementary schools exist with a majority of their populations at risk. They are all at the point of noncompliance with K-3 class sizes of 19.3 or higher. Once that average goes over 20, we can be fined $50,000 per class."

A month ago, Butrum told commissioners that student population was up by 266 over the same point a year earlier, and that at least six new teachers would be needed, but Butrum was asking for seven because student population often increased even further after the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration break.

The amendment proposed by the school system took money out of school buses and applied it towards funding the new teachers.

Questions

A year ago, the school system had been able to deal with an increase in student population by shifting some teachers instead of hiring new ones, officials have said, but they could not get away with that for a second year running.

But Tuesday night, county commissioners had questions about the budget, challenging the school system's decision to dismiss eight of 11 newly-hired teacher aides and five teachers who had been hired on a temporary basis while the school system waited for the amendment to pass.

Butrum was attending a statewide school superintendents' meeting and was not present to answer questions Tuesday night, and the only school board member present was Diane Neeley, who has in recent weeks been in opposition to some school system decisions and expenditures.

Neeley's view

Neeley told commissioners Tuesday night that she found only an increase of 116 students and that she had favored waiting until after the horse show break to submit a budget amendment request.

Commissioner Jimmy Woodson, a school bus driver and retired teacher, said that the decision to take money out of the budget for buying new school buses would hurt the school system's schedule for rotating in new school buses and could cause problems down the road.

Based on the original proposed school system budget, the school system had hired 11 teacher aides, some of whom were actually qualified to work as teachers. But eight of those were dismissed, as were five temporary teachers who had been hired using federal JOBS money to work until permanent teachers could be hired.

Hiring, firing

Commissioners asked whether Butrum had the authority to take such actions himself. Neeley acknowledged that the superintendent does have hiring and firing authority.

Commissioner J.D. "Bo" Wilson challenged statements which Butrum was quoted in school board minutes as making about possible future changes to employee health insurance.

The commission voted on the school system budget amendment and failed to pass it, with seven in favor, six opposed and four abstentions. A 10-vote majority of the full commission was required for passage.

Voting in favor of the amendment were Don Gallagher, Bobby Fox, Bob Davis, Jimmy Patterson, Linda Yockey, Jeff Yoes and Tony Barrett.

Opposed were Wilson, Tony Smith, Janice Brothers, Billy King, Ed Castleman and Mark Thomas.

Abstaining were Woodson, Joe Tillett, John Brown and P.T. "Biff" Farrar. Denise Graham was absent.

Yockey and Farrar are full-time school system employees while Woodson, as mentioned, is a bus driver.

Water grant

The commission approved Bedford County Utility District's application for a $750,000 state fast track infrastructure grant to build an elevated water storage tank.

The tank is needed for what the resolution says is a proposed $8 million expansion at Tyson Foods. The grant must be applied for by a municipality, and so the county must approve the application, but BCUD will be responsible for the $237,000 in matching funds.

Jail contract

The commission approved a contract with the state for housing locally-sentenced felons in Bedford County jail.

Sheriff's department officials have said the county is already housing such felons and that signing the contract will help ensure that the county is promptly compensated for inmate medical bills, which have become an increasing concern for the county in recent years.

Sheriff's cars

The commission approved an inter-fund loan to allow Bedford County Sheriff's Department to buy nine cars this year, instead of buying three cars a year for the next three years.

The commission also approved allocating some existing warrant fee revenue toward the purchase of cameras for the new cars.

Livestock removal

The commission approved renewing the contract with South Central Tennessee Development District for dead livestock removal, in spite of a sharp increase in price, from $38,000 to $51,381. However, commissioners said they wanted to continue to research the possibility of composting animal carcasses.

Appointments

The commission voted to transfer commissioner Tony Smith from the courthouse and county property committee to a vacant seat on the financial management committee, while appointing newly-elected commissioner Bob Davis to Smith's old seat on the courthouse committee.

Commissioners deferred action on appointments to a seat on the Emergency Communications Board and two seats on the Bedford County Agriculture and Education Center board, since County Mayor Eugene Ray, who makes the nominations, hasn't yet found qualified candidates from the specified districts.

License kiosk

The commission granted its approval for Tennessee Department of Safety to install a self-service driver's license kiosk in the courthouse. The kiosk can be used for license renewals.

Surplus property

The commission approved surplus property declarations from the highway department and the solid waste department.