Schools hope for no tax increase -- this year

Monday, August 1, 2005

Bedford County School System is attempting to go without a property tax increase this year, although it remains to be seen whether the state will approve the proposed 2005-2006 budget under its "maintenance of effort" (MOE) guidelines. However, school superintendent Ed Gray told Bedford County Board of Education on Thursday night that the school system has been able to hold the line on budgets in recent years only by drawing down on its fund balances, and that well has just about run dry, meaning some sort of new revenue will probably be needed next year.

The school board approved the sixth version of the 2005-2006 budget Thursday night. This version included some tweaking of property tax revenue based on the fact that each penny on the property tax rate is only projected to bring in $54,500, not $55,000 as the school system had originally assumed.

The new fiscal year actually began July 1. County departments are continuing to operate at 2004-2005 spending levels under a continuing resolution until the new budget has been finalized.

The school system is still waiting for the state to review the budget for compliance with MOE. Basically, the state requires, as a condition for funding, that counties continue to support instruction of costs at the same level each year as the year before. This prevents a county from lowering its funding at the same time the state is raising its funding.

The formula for determining MOE compliance is a complex one, which is why the school system must wait for a state ruling.

If the state were to reject the current budget under MOE, the county would be forced to add revenue to the school budget -- or to shift non-instructional costs, such as athletics or transportation, into educational line items.

In other discussion at Thursday night's meeting:

* The board heard that the majority of furniture and teacher supplies were moved into Harris Middle School two weeks ahead of schedule. The board reviewed the schedule for the school's dedication on Aug. 14.

Board members are pleased with the HMS project overall, calling it an excellent value -- with a few exceptions. Former School Superintendent Mike Bone reported that the asphalt in the school's parking lot is too coarse. Bone believes it will take on water, which could freeze during the winter months and cause cracks. Architect John Davis was scheduled to meet with the contractor Friday morning to discuss the situation.

The air-handling system is also too loud in the school's theatre and some other areas. Davis said grills are being replaced and air-handling equipment is being adjusted in hopes of quieting the system.

Bone said he was disappointed that library shelving at the school is made of particle board rather than natural lumber.

* The board voted to study policies for random drug testing of athletes in hopes of developing and funding a county-wide program. Cascade, Central and Community high schools and Harris Middle School each has separate policies for random drug testing of athletes, and only one school is actually doing the testing due to cost issues. The school board said the county needs a consistent policy and that funding needs to be found to actually carry out enough tests to be a deterrent.

A new Supreme Court ruling allows random testing of any students involved in competition, including not only sports but cheerleading, band and other activities. In theory, even debate clubs or the like could be included.

* The board accepted a bid of $51,495 from Acton Mobile Industries for new portable classrooms. The bid is a per-unit price for whatever number of classrooms the system would like to purchase. Four bids were received, with Acton's being the lowest.

* The board appointed its 2005-06 negotiations team. Amy Martin will chair the team, with Barry Cooper, Connie Boutwell, Ed Gray and Hal Skelton as members and Robert Daniel as a consultant.

* The board nominated Martin for the position of vice president of the Tennessee School Boards Association.

* The board voted to shift its meeting from the fourth Thursday of each month to the third Thursday, effective this month.